Reflection for the Sunday after Ascension
Thursday of this week is Ascension Day, commemorating the end of the resurrection appearances. It was necessary for Jesus to help the disciples to understand that He would no longer be a physical presence with them on earth. In future they would experience Jesus as a glorious spiritual presence. These truths are difficult to express in words and the Bible prefers to tell a story. Such stories can take various forms – parables, letters, poems, prayers to name but a few.
At Acts 1.1-11 Luke tells how Jesus and His disciples went up the Mount of Olives and after a brief message Jesus was enveloped in a cloud and taken up out of their sight. The disciples saw two men dressed in white who told them that Jesus would come again and that they were to await the gift of the Holy Spirit. Another version of the same story is told at Luke 24.50-53. So, what do these stories mean? To help us the readings for Ascension include the prayer at Ephesians 1.15-23.
The prayer is addressed to those at Ephesus who have faith and love. The two go together and enable understanding. So the prayer continues, praying that ‘the Father of glory may grant you a spirit of wisdom and understanding, that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, with a view to your knowing the hope of your calling…’ We need an understanding of the nature of God’s being and splendour, and for this, spiritual wisdom and practical knowledge of how to live our lives is necessary. We hope that hereafter we may in some sense share God’s glory. The ascended Jesus goes to that state of glory which we too hope to experience.
This leads to that lovely petition that ‘the eyes of our heart may be enlightened’.
The heart represents our total being, our whole moral and spiritual lives. The prayer asks for discernment of the meaning of life and how to live it. To put it more simply, belief and behaviour go together. The ascension tells us that the glory we hope to share with Jesus will be a moral and spiritual experience at a new and higher level.
Much more could be said about the Ephesians passage and about the meaning of the ascension. The above is offered in the hope it will lift our minds above the present situation and offer hope and spiritual perception.
The Reverend Dr Calum Gilmour