Ascension Day 5
Ascension as Seen from the Mount of Olives by James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum
Jesus vs Emperor
♱ Opening Sentence
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
HEBREWS 4:14, 16
♱ Scripture Reading
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”
Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).
Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
♱ Scripture Meditation
When Jesus sent Mary to tell the disciples that he is ascending to his father, one of the many things I am amazed at in this passage is the way she doesn’t ask any questions. No questions about where the heck he has been the last few days. No questions about her capacity to speak up or her apostolic authority. And no questions about ascension. It’s as if she knew just what he meant by ascension and how to announce it to her fellow disciples.
I’ve been curious about why the disciples of Jesus were not more confused or weirded out by talk of ascension. What did they think it meant? What frames of reference did they have for ascension? On one hand, the Jewish scriptures were scattered with enthronement psalms (24, 47, 68, 110) which echo the enthronement of the royal King in Jerusalem. There was the ascension of Elijah who was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire. And there was the ascension of the Son of Man in Dan. 7:13-14 to the throne of a universal kingdom.
There were familiar stories that captured the expectancy of Messianic hope and the vindication of God’s people over their oppressors. There was also a function of ascension language in the Roman Empire that I imagine would have put a spring in the step of Mary Magdalene and quickly gathered the attention of her audience.
Apotheosis was the practice of making a deceased ruler or emperor into a god. This relief reveals the ascension and apotheosis of Caesar, Belvedere Altar, Rome, 12-2 BCE. The practice was highly political because it tapped the religious imagination of the people in order to secure the heir of the newly deified “god” a seat of power and title “son of god.”
Within this Greco-Roman backdrop, what did the announcement of Christ’s ascension mean to Mary and the other disciples?
NT Wright offers this insight in Upstaging the Emperor. “The startling answer challenges conventional readings that see Luke and Acts as politically quiescent. Luke, drawing on Jewish sources about the vindication of God’s people, was challenging the Roman belief in the divinity of the emperor. Luke’s Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, who is also the true Lord of the world.”
Read the passage again. What words stand out to you?
Imagine that you are Mary.
What do you feel when Jesus speaks of His ascension? What do you expect will happen? How do you announce it to the disciples?
♱ Contemplate with Art:
Look at the art above. what details stand out to you? Where do you find yourself in this scene?
The Jews were suffering oppression under the Roman Empire. You are on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem as Jesus ascends. What do you think and feel in this moment?
Close your eyes and recall the passage and image in your mind. What do you remember? Talk with God about anything you experienced.
What does it mean for God to call you his child and for you to call him Father?
Is there anything he might be speaking to you through this passage? Notice how Mary responded. Notice your own response.
Almighty God, grant us such faith in your only Son, our Savior, who this day ascended into heaven, that we may live each day with our hearts and spirits fixed on him; through your dear Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.