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Friday, April 18, 2014

Why Ascension Matters

It's Good Friday, and last year, the day hit me with just the reassurance and comfort and grace that I seem to stay hungry for all the time. You can read about that here.

While I have reflected again, especially with the morning's anxieties, on the proof of God's love, this year, I can't stop talking to the girls about the Ascension. I guess it's a new understanding for me, so much more rich and personal than I had realized before, and so I want to talk about it, want them (and you, if you're interested) to glory in it with me.

If you've been reading these Contents for a long time, then you know I've struggled with the physicality of my existence and the spirituality of our faith experience. (Some examples of that ongoing wrestling with longing for the physical, walking by sight: Knowing Face to Face; Crying "Abba! Daddy!"; Waiting for God)

That background about my longing to "have a God with skin on" is important for me in understanding why Jesus had to go away. Why couldn't he stay here, eternally, walking with us on this planet? Wouldn't that be better for us, to be able to find him somewhere, even if it meant we had to use Delta to track him down while he was doing some serious Kingdom Building on another part of this little rock?

That time will come. But for now, for me to know, really know, that I am secure, he had to go away. He had to leave so that I could know my future is sealed.

As a kid and even an adult believer, I typically just thought of the Ascension as the event that marked the reality of Jesus' words on the cross: "It is finished." It's done. He went home. Yes, John tells us that he said he was going to "prepare a place for us," and I believe it. That's cool. I'd like a place prepared. A house with many mansions in it, the shade of my own fig tree. Sounds good. Whatever he's got in mind, I'm sure I'll be content with it. But it is so much more than that--the reason he had to leave us!

Think about what happened just last night, all those years ago, in Gethsemane. He wrestled and writhed under the knowledge of what he was about to take on. We can't even imagine it, because we've been steeped in sin and its damages all our existence. But it had not touched him. Not one inkling of it lived inside him, and he dropped to his knees in a garden--harkening back to the place he first put his beloveds, where they were safe and pure and with him in the beginning--and said, "I'll take it, Father. ALL of it, onto myself." Every lie. Every murder. Every act of adultery. Every short word. Every broken promise. Every theft. Every manipulation. Every violation of justice. Every single time his own honor was rejected, discounted, diminished. Every word of slander. Even every stroke of the hammer that would drive the nails into his own flesh hours later. And all that pain that comes from all those things.

I see it like a never-ending thunderhead, rolling black and violent and oppressive, from all four corners of the Earth and being funneled onto this one beautiful, humble man. I know what it is to be as innocent as I can be, and to be blindsided by a kind of unexpected violence that cut me to my soul--but this is me, a sinful woman already, who has caused hurt and damage. And by comparison, the affliction I have experienced is just momentary. It cannot compare to the volume of evil he took onto himself--the words say "he became"--for us. How did he even bear that moment of taking the sin of the world? How did that in itself not kill him?

While on the cross, having become our sin, his Father had to turn away. He had to. It's who God is. It's how bad sin is. It's what he would have had to do to us if Christ had not been willing to be that man who took it all. It's what we deserve. It's NOT what God left it to be, though. But sin is that bad. A God who is perfect in righteousness cannot be where sin is, and certainly cannot be joined to it in unity. It had to go. On the cross, Jesus was our sin, and God had to turn away or else cease to be God. And he did.

He turned away. Forsook his only Son, whom he loved. For you. For me. For us.
But the story's not over.

After he died, he was taken down and placed in a tomb and it was sealed. Why do we bury people? And why are there rules about that burying? It's about purification. Death breeds impurity--disease, corruption. The dead must be dealt with, and burial allows the process to take care of the impurities. The surface is not made impure by a buried corpse, as it would be if the corpse were left exposed. And that's what Christ's burial is--the purification of all that sin. It is taken into the ground and dealt with. With finality.

But the story's not over. The power comes. The very power of the God who creates. It's the same power to resurrect. He who gives life gives life AGAIN, and he does it for Jesus and he does it for you and he does it for me. Resurrection power, after the grave. I've glimpsed it here. A child almost dead, expected to die, returned not only to life but to vigorous life. It's a shadow of what we're talking about here and what is to come for all who believe. Life. I don't think we even truly know it yet, but there it is before our eyes to consider: Life after the grave.

But the story's still not over yet. Because after he appeared to many, and they believed to carry forward the Kingdom work he had for them, then he left. He was lifted up, he Ascended to heaven. And that's so much more than just going away. It's not a "So long and thanks for everything" kind of goodbye. It's not even just a closure on the "It is finished" statement.

Get this: It is our PROOF that his work is sufficient. It's good enough. It's a done deal. The bargain is sealed. Your sins are gone. They are removed from as far as the east is from the west and they are never coming back and because of that you can and will be with the God who cannot be in the presence of sin. You will be united with him. Because the Father accepted Christ, who had become sin for us, back into his presence.

If even any residue of that sin remained with him, unpurified, hanging on to haunt us all later and sprout again in the new Earth, then God the Father could not have received the Christ back into heaven. The Ascension could not have happened. But it did. And the future is written, and we're in it, with him, perfectly, forever.

The fact that Jesus is not here any longer is our proof. His work was good enough. It is settled. I am his.


Happy Easter, beloveds. He Is RISEN and ASCENDED!

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