Sunday, June 05, 2011

What Would the Resurrection Be Without the Ascension?

Back in High School Government and Civics class we used to frequently get bogged by hypothetical situations. Worse yet, were the hypothetical questions that seemed to spin off endlessly from the initial hypothetical situation. I think all that time wasted was suppossed to get us to think like little lawmakers who should try to cover as many possibilities as can be imagined when drawing up hypothetical laws, Bills, and Constitutional ammendments.

I hated it, and I spent much of the class drawing cartoons of airstrikes being called in against the campus. If I were to do such a thing today, I would get in all kinds of trouble. As it was, my cartoons became underground hits.

And I think I wound up with a C+ in Government and Civics.

I still don't like "hypotheticals."

In the course of today's sermon, our preacher posed the question which I posted as a title to this blog post: "What would the Resurrection be without the Ascension?" (or WWTRBWTA for short).

His point was to increase people's awareness of the importance of the Ascension and to chastise us for not attending the Thursday 11 a.m. service that celebrated Ascension Day.

I was left wondering about how modern people, many of whom have enough trouble with the bodily resurrection of Jesus, might react to Acts 1:9-11
"When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’"
and Luke 24:50-51 both of which which I read on Ascension Day,
"Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven."
How many people today have trouble believing this happened? I don't know the answer to my question, but I do know that you can't discard the Ascension stories. They are integral to the Gospel's witness. Because the Ascension is integral, it might be better to draw cartoons or color in the Sunday kids bulletin than to get caught up in the hypothetical question posed during today's sermon.

Without an Ascension, we would be left with an unanswered question as to what became of Jesus after his post resurrection appearances to the disciples. An endless stream of hypotheticals starts flowing through my mind. Thoughts like, "Where does he sleep?" or, "Will his body show signs of its age?" In either case, you see that I must presume that the non-ascended Jesus would live in His physical body on Earth forever.

I hate hypotheticals.

I disagree with our preacher's answer that without the Ascension, the Resurrection might be considered nothing more than a cheap parlor trick, but I would rather not waste more time on his answer other than to say that in his attempt to make the congregation more aware of the importance of the Ascension, and how naughty we were for not coming to church on Thursday morning, he might have taken another path... hypothetically speaking.


  1. I love hypotheticals! The entire first year of my legal educations was nothing but hypothetical questions. I make my living dreaming those things up and answering them, trying to cover all the bases. In my job, underlying hypothetical question is "How can my client get screwed; let me count [and imagine] the ways."*

    As for the connection between resurrection and ascension, I would add the component of "return." The fundamental tenant of the Gospel is God triumphed over Sin and it's ultimate consequence, physical and spiritual death. Thus, the Resurrection demonstrates the Triumph/Victory. The Ascension is the necessary prerequisite to His inevitable Second Coming. Each is predicated on that which came before, and together, they demonstrate the Deity of Christ and his sacrificial Triumph over the Human Condition.

    But, your mileage may vary.


    *BTW, this has inspired me to write about my love for hypothetical questions and why they're necessary to good governance.

  2. Randall,

    Chacun à son goût. Glad to be the inspiration for something. What would you do without me? Oops...

  3. Pewster: Dale Matson has more pastoral approach here:

    And I highly recommend the book "The Resurrection of Ministry" by Andrew Purves as an argument for reclaiming the celebration of the Ascension... not out of guilt "because it's important," but because of what the New Testament says about its significance for Christ's people, the church.

  4. ToilNotSpin12:48 AM

    I hate hypotheticals! In my senior year of college, way back in the dark ages, I had a history professor who used to say, "Let's assume that the South had won the Civil War.." This produced nothing but bad theories, and I too used to draw naughty things in my notebook during lectures.

    Anyone who calls himself a Christian and separates the Resurrection from the Ascension has obviously missed the whole point of Christ's beautiful and terrible sacrifice. I suspect, UP, that your priest was working on a little problem with pride, and that his REAL complaint was not enough people showing up at his service.

    I have some fairly strong opinions about priests who harangue regular churchgoers with full-time jobs who can't make it to weekday services....but that would involve some unkind hypotheses on MY part..

    Bless you

  5. JSIII7:37 AM

    Um--I would cite the above as prima facie evidence that UP and TNS gave up thinking for themselves long ago. Life is full of hypotheticals. I need and I want my practicing professionals (law, medicine, government) to deal with the very well, indeed.

  6. Thanks Tim, I will check that out.

  7. ToilNotSpin,

    If it was after 1961, perhaps your professor was checking to see of anyone had read "If the South had Won the Civil War" (1961 Kantor, Mackinlay)
    In this little book, the end result of the Confederate states conquering Washington DC and taking Lincoln prisoner was a period of alternative history during which America evolved to eventually do away with slavery and come back together. I read this back in '72 for a laugh, but I really enjoyed it.

    If you were in college before 1961, maybe your professor was the author and was looking for material.

  8. JSIII,

    So was Jesus bodily taken up into heaven?

    And what if he wasn't?

  9. JSIII6:29 PM

    1. Seems very unlikely, but I wasn't there. Assuming that the stories aren't a later addition, I think one can also assume that something happened that impressed the writers. So I have no problem celebrating Ascension day.
    2. Wouldn't matter to me one bit. That's sort of like asking "Does the fact that the Shroud of Turin is a fake affect your faith?" No.

  10. ToilNotSpin11:24 PM

    UP, I believe that JS111 has just proved your point. Hypotheticals are VERY important when you want them to the professions like law and medicine...but in areas such as religion they are pointless..that is, when someone ELSE presents you with a hypothetical question like, say, about Jesus, then it can be dismissed. Did I follow that correctly?

  11. ToilNotSpin,

    In science and medicine testable hypotheses are generated which often lead to dead ends, or new discoveries. The results of those tests more often result in new testable hypotheses.

    In theology and religion the ultimate test becomes the test of faith. The proof of that faith will eventually come, but not through our mental gymnastics.

    Imagining Christianity without the Ascension is a bit like Bishop John Shelby Spong imagining Christianity without a bodily Resurrection. I believe that Spong's religion will not survive the test of time, but many people are likely to be led astray unless they are willing to stand firm in the faith delivered to us through the witness of the Apostles.

  12. ToilNotSpin1:04 PM

    UP, I particularly like the phrase "mental gymnastics" in dealing with questions of faith. The mere awkwardness of debating whether or not there was an Ascension after the Resurrection indicates to me that the gymnast has too much time on his (or her) theological hands. If you are a Christian, it is simply impossible to separate that act into two separate acts.

    And about "If the South Had Won the War"--I was in college after 1961 (although not much after!) and did read it on my own. I didn't enjoy it as much as I had hoped...but then I have almost too many southern relatives who endlessly replayed the "War of Northern Aggression" in conversation when I was young...:)


  13. Anonymous1:06 AM

    I'm a little late getting to this comment, obviously, but I do want to say that your preacher had it completely wrong. It is not the relationship of meaning of Ascension to Resurrection, it is instead the Ascension which gives meaning to Pentecost. You could make your hypothetical regarding the stand alone power and nature of the Resurrection. But without the Ascension, there is no Acts 2 Pentecost.
    I prep and then gently chide my parish to celebrate Ascension, and then on Pentecost noting how few showed up 10 days earlier. However, for the sake of the Church's praxis and the fulfillment of Acts 1:8 I am very willing to remind without malice my hearers of the power of meaning of the Ascension of the Risen Christ while hitting hard the need for each believer's own personal Pentecost.

    Here I am preaching to the choir...

  14. Rob+,

    It all flows, we cannot isolate and dissect these things without stepping back and loving the whole.

    Powerful words preacher!