It is sad that Ascension Day is for so many the forgotten church festival (perhaps even passing too easily from our own radar screens?).
There’s the glorious Jn 14:1-4 ascension truth Josua Wegelin captured in his hymn: “On Christ’s ascension I now build the hope of my ascension….For where the head is, there as well I know his members are to dwell” (CW 173:1).
Then there’s the truth that our crucified and risen brother, whose nail marked hands were raised in blessing as he removed his visible presence from this world (Lk 24:50-51), still has those hands uplifted in blessing as he rules all things for his Church’s benefit from his Father’s right hand (Ep 1:15-23).
But right up there with those ascension truths is the additional security of knowing that our divine brother also uses his position of authority in ceaseless intercession for his own (Ro 8:34).
Next Sunday’s gospel provides us a majestic sound bite of what that awesome ceaseless intercession must sound like.
As we listen in on divine conversation, we hear our great Intercessor choosing not to ask the Father to take us out of the world (Jn 17:15). He prays that despite knowing the danger of leaving us in a world to which we truly no longer belong. He prays that despite the reality that in his gospel his new heavens and new earth have already broken into this dying world and claimed us through faith as its citizens. That means that those who cling to this present age, and therefore hate him, will hate us too.
He prays what he does despite knowing how pitifully weak we are on our own in the face of such pressure (as the Twelve prove that evening!). He knows our sinful nature longs to be accepted by that world. He knows how easily we stumble on the temptation to adopt this world’s philosophies, its cynical and loveless patterns.
All that might be enough to make us wonder if our High Priest has fully grasped the danger of the situation in which he leaves us.
But it’s not that Jesus doesn’t grasp the real danger we are in from within and without. It is rather that he grasps the far greater protection under which we live. “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – that name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one” (Jn 17:11).
Yes, in this world we will have no end of trouble – self-inflicted and others-inflicted.
But we can take heart because the one the Father gave us, the one through whom we know his saving name, has overcome the world (Jn 16:33). In that Son, the Father’s forgiving, restoring, empowering and protecting name rests on us – forever.
That is the protection for which our risen and ascended great High Priest faithfully and ceaselessly intercedes for us. Under that protection we aliens to this world but citizens of heaven humbly and yet boldly live until our ascension day arrives!