The Ascension Day
To listen on podcast click here.
For the followers of Jesus, his Ascension, which we celebrate today, was a turning point. From then on, they would live in the in-between time, between Jesus leaving this earth and his promised return.
For Christians, that means we are part of this world, but not of it. We are born here, live here, work here, love and are loved here. We even eventually die here. But here is not our home. Here is not the source of our power. Here is not the focus of our hope.
What are we to do then? We don’t want to be so earthly minded that we are of no heavenly good. But we don’t want the opposite to be true either. We don’t want to be so focused on “pie in the sky” that we ignore people suffering in our midst. We can’t solve the world’s problems, but surely, we can put a dent in them! How do we get the balance right?
Medieval Christians were taught to see the institutional church as the beachhead of the Kingdom of God in their midst. Its massive presence in everyday life was supposed to be where God’s will was done on earth as it was in Heaven. When the church wielded earthly power and influence, as it often did, it was always to be a practical way to advance God’s agenda in the world.
But by the time Cranmer and the English Reformers experienced the institutional church of their day, they were convinced that something had gone terribly wrong. The noble idea for the church to use worldly wealth, prestige and authority to glorify Christ had, in fact, corrupted both its leadership in how they lived their lives and the message of the Gospel they promoted. As Article 19 of the Thirty-Nine Articles states: “the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.” Even as the Medieval Church stressed more and more the need for sinners to prove themselves worthy of God’s forgiveness by their attempts at holiness, the clerical leadership was increasingly conformed not to Christ, but to the sins of the world.
The English Reformers were determined to change things. However, worldly power is addictive, and they were not above using it to correct what they considered to be religious errors. After all, if Rome would not reform the church, what other power under Heaven existed that could bring about a restoration of the Gospel message? Consequently, the English Reformers relied on the authority of the secular government to force the alterations in church faith and practice which they believed better reflected biblical teaching. Over a thousand years of beautiful Latin Liturgy were ordered tossed aside so people could once again understand what was being said in Church. In 1552 Parliament even compelled everyone in the country to make sure to attend these English language Sunday services.
Why did the English Reformers think that they were different from their predecessors, that they could be successful at using the sword of the state to advance the Gospel? The key to their thinking can be found in the Collect for the Ascension. Even if they used the power of the state to put the Bible front and center in English worship and preaching, even if they used secular laws to get people to attend, the English Reformers did not put their hope in earthly power to change human hearts. They focused on the power of heavenly things to change earthly matters. They trusted in the supernatural truth and power of the Bible. They were convinced that if people experienced Scripture, prayed, and proclaimed, the Holy Spirit would work through it to turn people’s hearts and minds back to God.
Jesus’s Ascension reminds us that we are only sojourners here. Jesus has seated us in heavenly places with him at the right hand of God (Eph. 2:6), and we are called to see our activities from this eternal perspective. We are to engage the world. We are to use the resources at our disposal in the world to better it by advancing the Gospel. But we are never to put our trust in our use of them. Rather, we rely on the work of the Spirit to glorify Christ through our efforts while he tarries, and to make all things new again according to God’s promises when he returns.
Let us be inspired by praying Cranmer’s Collect for the Ascension Day:
GRANT we beseech thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe thy only-begotten son our Lord to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the holy Ghost, one God world without end, Amen.
Pray with us today's prayer request:
Theology students at the Bishop Tucker Theology College, Uganda. Many ordinands are sitting their exams.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the great privilege and joy of being able to study the Bible. Please help all theology students taking their final exams: calm their nerves and varied anxieties, help them to remember their studies, to express their ideas clearly, to complete assignments with satisfaction, to remain lifelong learners from your Word. In Jesus name. Amen.
To access daily prayer requests click here: