Ascension Day has always held a special place in my heart, as I was made Deacon on the Feast of the Ascension in 2006. The Gospel account of the Ascension that sticks out most for me, and still directs my ministry today, is that of St. Luke: “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.”(Luke 24: 50-53).
One of my professors during my days at the seminary at Huron University College, Canon Todd Townshend (now the Dean of Theology at Huron University College), made a point of emphasizing that in Luke’s account of the Ascension, Jesus blessed His followers as he withdrew from them and ascended. Today, that blessing extends to us. The ministries we undertake are not done in vain, but are blessed by our Lord (and empowered by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost).
The Ascension marks the beginning of an ‘in-between’ time; an ‘in-between time’ within which we—the Church of Christ today—live out our Christian life and work. The Ascension marks the conclusion of Christ’s earthly ministry and inaugurates this ‘in-between’ time until Christ’s promised return; until, as NT Wright regularly reminds us—notably in his book “Surprised By Hope” —Heaven comes to earth and Christ returns in glory.
But, in the meantime, we followers of Christ are here on earth as signposts pointing to the promised return of our ascended Lord by the various ministries that we undertake. Our ministries are not carried out so as to ‘earn’ salvation; so that when we die God will give us a pat on the back and send us up to Heaven to float around on a cloud. No, our ministries are a response to our risen and ascended Lord. Christ has conquered death forever by his resurrection, and has promised to return to resurrect us too, bodily, as heaven comes to earth. How can we not share this Good News?
So, if we are to share this Good News in this ‘in-between’ time on earth, signified by the Ascension, how are we to do it? The Rev’d. Canon Dr. Tim Elliot, who recently was a speaker at a Clergy Conference in the Diocese of Huron, entreats us to ask three questions to help us in the discernment of our baptismal ministry (both individually and collectively): What am I good at? What do I like to do? What needs doing?
As we reflect on the things we are good at and the things we like to do, each of can begin to recognize the gifts God has given us to carry out what needs to be done in Christ’s name. And all to glorify God in this ‘in-between’ time. Since God has created each of us as unique, our gifts will be uniquely ours. Thanks be to God for this!
Notice that at the end of Luke’s account of the Ascension, the disciples “…were continually in the temple blessing God.” We know they didn’t stay there. They came together, offering themselves to God in worship so that God might transform their hearts in His love. Then they went out from there and utilized their unique God given gifts to proclaim the risen and ascended Lord. And the risen and ascended Christ blessed their work and God transformed the world—as God continues to do today through us!
As we celebrate the Ascension may we, the Church today, have hearts open to God’s transformation in worship, minds keen to discern our ministries each according to our unique gifts, and the courage to be the signposts pointing to Christ’s resurrection and promised return. We can do this, together. Because we know that the ascended Christ blesses our ministries until that time at which our Lord stands again on earth in the fullness of his Glory. Until that time at which, by His mercy, we experience the fullness of the resurrection and all things are made new!
The Rev’d Daniel Bowyer is an Associate of Holy Cross Priory, Toronto, and the Rector of St. Paul’s, Stratford, Diocese of Huron.