Before his Crucifixion/Resurrection/Ascension, Jesus was limited by time and space. If he was in Capernaum, that is where he was, not in Nazareth. If he was in Jerusalem, that is where he was, not Cana. Our Lord could not be in all those places at the same time.
Let us say, for example, that instead of passing through death to the other side and to a new and different kind of life … let us say that instead Jesus died and then miraculously came back to life on this side of death, and miraculously continued to live without ageing until the end of time. He would be present in his earthly form for every generation. In this modern age he could travel around the world by jet, be on television, even the internet.
But that presence—sporadic visits to different areas of the globe, appearances ‘from a distance’ on TV—could not compare to his intimate and constant presence with each of us through his Spirit. In His Spirit, Jesus is able to be with us in a fuller, closer presence than before his death. The Ascension is not about absence; it is about presence, much more presence!
That is why Jesus ascended into heaven. The rising of Jesus was not simply a matter of coming out of the tomb and walking around in familiar places as a hero who made a crossing no one else had accomplished, making appearances here and there. Jesus went to ‘the right hand of the Father’. A human being, one of us, is now at the centre of the Trinity. The Ascension is the other half of the Resurrection.
So, in the Creed we say: ‘We believe in Jesus Christ … he died, and was buried … rose again, ascended into heaven … I believe in the Holy Spirit.’ These elements all make up one single event, and each is essential to what Jesus accomplished through the cross.
Jesus died a full, complete, and total human death. He was beyond resuscitation, the this-side-of-death stage of his human existence terminated, forever (just as, when he grew up, his boyhood stage permanently ended).
Jesus was buried. Jesus was placed in an identifiable tomb (not a common grave), and placed there by an identifiable person (Joseph of Arimathea).
Jesus went through death and rose again to a new and different kind of human life. Jesus did not simply survive the crossing over to life on the other side, and then return to assure us that he was successful. He was raised to a different, higher form of human existence.
Jesus ascended into Heaven. He has brought ‘flesh’ into the realm where we thought only spirits and angels could dwell—into the realm where God lives. From now on, we all ‘belong there’.
Jesus sent his Spirit upon us. By dying, rising, and ascending into a transformed human existence, Jesus can send his Spirit upon us and be with us in a new and better way. He is closer to us than ever before.
Christ’s Ascension is about presence, not absence!
This article is part of a series of reflections entitled ‘I Believe…Help My Unbelief’: Meditations on the Creed by Br Mark O’Connor FMS.
Br Mark O’Connor FMS is the Vicar for Communications in the Diocese of Parramatta.