Today is Ascension Day, but what does that even mean? Luke is the only person to detail the ascension of Jesus in his gospel account, and he finds it important enough to make it the hinge between his two volumes—Luke and Acts. Both books recall the moment of Jesus’ ascension into heaven—one as a conclusion and one as a beginning—and it almost feels as if the ascension is the birth of the new Christian era (as opposed to Pentecost, which is still ten days away). But why? Other than the disappearance of Jesus—the only logical explanation for how his earthly ministry ends (imagine Shane riding off into the sunset)—what is ascension all about?
More than anything, it’s a story of hope. Theologically speaking, it’s the conclusion of Jesus’ salvific acts—his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension all go together as a collective redemptive event—but to us it’s more than that. It means the story goes on. It means the work of the incarnate one is not over. It means that Jesus’ reign continues. It means that all of us—in every place and in every time—have access to his redemptive power. And it means that we have something to look forward to—both his return and our own ascension into the clouds.
In the church, there’s a tradition of processing out of the service with banners and torches to commemorate this joyful event, and apparently there’s an English custom of carrying a lion banner at the front of the procession and a dragon banner at the back to underscore how Jesus’ ascension is an expression of his victory over Satan. We don’t have a dragon banner, but we will process outside and let go of balloons, and stare up into the sky and, depending on how much wind is blowing, perhaps watch them disappear into the clouds. And that is symbolic of our hope—the hope that this day represents—the hope that God has given us in his son, Jesus Christ—a hope that goes on forever and never dies.
What is your hope? What do you hope for? You are invited to take a balloon and, on the card that is attached to it, write a message of hope. And that’s the question for tonight’s TonTap discussion: if you could give a stranger one message of hope, what would it be?