The Ascension of our Lord, 2015
It was a moment that mixed the secular with the religious in a way that will probably never happen again in my life. Fifteen years ago I was backpacking alone on a 20-day trip in Israel on Easter break from seminary studies in Europe. I arrived at the bus terminal in Jerusalem. I had booked a place in the Lutheran Hostel in the Old City of Jerusalem. To get from the bus station to the top of Mount Zion and the old city I took a sherut, a shared taxi. Crammed into the taxi with three other people and cruising along at high speed, just as we started ascending Mt. Zion the rap song “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio started playing on the taxi radio. (The video link: http://youtu.be/cpGbzYlnz7c)
The Grammy-winning song written by Stevie Wonder, is a complex and nuanced song that tells the fears and hopes of a young inner-city gang member. The only song of Coolio that reportedly does not have swearing, it begins with the words from Psalm 23 and ends with the writer’s despair that no one who can understand him to reach out and help him. Listening to the song as the taxi ascended Mt. Zion I thought of the continual violence that plagued Jerusalem and the countless millions of people in the world who live in despair and the fear of death who do not know Jesus Christ their God and Saviour. These days I wonder do I take the time to try to truly understand the lives of my non-Christian friends and family. Do I “front” being a Christian yet fail to have deep and meaningful conversations about Christ with those I know who are struggling in life without the hope and peace that come through faith in Christ alone.
Jerusalem was a truly unique place and in many ways the song did sum up the city, it was a place of friction and tension. I imagine it still is today. Yet it is the city where Jesus Christ the creator of the world who became man, born of the virgin Mary, was arrested by the Jewish chief priests, condemned though innocent, and crucified by the order of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. There he died as a holy sacrifice for the sin of the world and there he rose from the dead three days later.
When I was in Jerusalem a wise Christian traveller told me the Jews don’t even call Jerusalem “the holy city” anymore. For they and their rabbinic scholars realize the Holy Bible says it is the presence of God in the city which makes it holy. From their point of view since the Temple sanctuary was desecrated and destroyed in A.D. 70 God can no longer be present there and so the city is no longer holy. The Holy Bible is clear that as the Son of God Jesus is now the temple of God (see John 2:18-22) and the source of all holiness. And so as Jesus ascended into heaven in the year A.D. 33 the holiness of God left Jerusalem. As Christians we don’t need to go to Jerusalem to experience the holiness of God, we receive it as God baptizes us into his kingdom and comes to us in his word and sacraments. Having said all this, I still recommend a trip to Jerusalem to see the historic city and the many Christian churches there. It is a testament to the historicity of the Holy Bible and the life of Christ. It was right near Mt. Zion on the Mount of Olives where Jesus ascended into heaven.
The church celebrates this day as Ascension Day. Having taken away our sin in his death and conquered the power of death by his resurrection from the dead Jesus had nothing left on earth to accomplish. For this reason and to fulfill prophesy, Jesus ascended into heaven. Now Jesus sits at God the Father’s right side in heaven and waits for the appointed time to return to earth on the last day. As Christians, Ascension Day is a day to celebrate God’s gracious work of salvation accomplished in Jesus. It’s a day to remember that God has wrought our victory over sin and death. It’s also a day to remember that Christ will come again. Between now and then Christ calls us to share the good news of His death and resurrection with all.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that taxi ride to the top of Jerusalem. It was a reminder of my shortcomings and the need for all people to receive the life that comes through faith in Christ. Very close to the spot the taxi let me out Jesus was crucified, rose from the dead and finally ascended victoriously into heaven. It’s the spot where history changed and God gave his promise of life and salvation to the world.
Happy Ascension Day!
Pastor Rob Korsch