Thoughts on Ascension Day


Scripture: Luke 24: 44-52. Nigel Bunce

The Ascension of Jesus is another of those Scriptural stories that are hard for we 21st century people to get our heads around.  Did it all happen exactly the way Luke described?  Or did Luke write the story as a dramatic ending to his account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus?  Image: Viridi Green,


How to understand the Ascension

Was Jesus really carried up physically into heaven as the disciples watched? The thumbnail pictures on tonight’s Powerpoint presentation show what we might use in Sunday School. In other words, taking the Scripture literally.

But the imagery is that of a rocket taking off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It gives me frivolous thoughts about how fast Jesus ascended? Did he disappear from the head first, to the feet last, as he went into the clouds?

Personally, I don’t believe in such a literal Ascension. Perhaps my scepticism on the matter comes from the realization that only Luke tells this story. [The parallel account in Acts Chapter 1 is the work of the same author.]

What would have motivated Luke to “make it up”?

Of all the Gospel writers, Luke is far and away the best story-teller. He alone gave us the Christmas story of shepherds and angels. And some of our favourite parables. The Prodigal Son. The Good Samaritan.

As I said over Easter, understanding the Resurrection, and its aftermath, is very difficult for 21st century, literally minded people. But from my own experience, I can testify to occasions in which departed loved ones can seem very real. But this occurs mainly shortly after death. The ‘visions’ if you want to call them that, fade as the distance in time from the death increases.

Luke Chapter 24 begins with the Resurrection. Next comes the story fo the Road to Emmaus. Luke presents these in very sharp focus. Right before tonight’s reading, Luke describes vignettes like those of Doubting Thomas and the breakfast on the beach. But these vignettes are much less sharp focus. It’s as if the memories were fading. 

How Luke completed his account of Jesus’ life on earth

So my guess – but it’s only a guess – is that Luke needed to finish off e story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ presence to the disciples was growing dim. So Luke needed a way to show his readers that Jesus’ immediate presence on earth was over.

Jesus returned to he God the Father. Heaven, everyone believed, was above the firmament. So Luke wrote a dramatic ending to his Gospel as a way to illustrate this visually. And he borrowed the idea from the dramatic departure of the great Hebrew prophet Elijah, who went to heaven in a fiery chariot, as witnessed by his successor Elisha.

Did Luke really make up the Ascension as a dramatic ending to his Gospel? Or was the story literally true? I’ll have to leave you to come to your own conclusions. Your own faith perspective.

Why Ascension Day is important to me, personally

But whether truth or parable, Ascension Day is personally important to me. Because my ordination took place on that day in 2004. As I look back on the symbolism of the date, it’s an odd choice for an ordination. The day that remembers when Jesus left the earth for the last time!

But it was, for all that, a very spiritual event in my life, and I can still recall many of the details. Anyway, I’ll stop now. Amen.