The Creed, like the scriptures, forms from its several parts a unified whole. At a particular juncture in history, however, this or that creedal assertion may become especially important for our grasp of the whole. It seems to me that … we are presently at such a juncture where the witness to the ascension is concerned…. The doctrine of the ascension has become an enigma, if not an embarrassment. The corresponding liturgical feast, once one of the church’s great feasts, is poorly celebrated…. Ascension pales besides Pentecost. The latter’s dependence on the former is seldom noticed….
Reviving the feast of the Ascension will require a theological renewal, but … that renewal will require a choice between theologies…. Simply put, our choice is between a doctrine of the ascension that truly affirms our humanity in Christ and one that secretly or openly denies it….
To begin to understand the story of Jesus … we must go all the way back to Eden, to that cosmic mountain on which was planted the garden where the very first humans are said to have walked and talked with God. For in Eden begins the pattern of descent and ascent that provides the main story-line of the holy scriptures, a story line that reaches its climax in Jesus and his ascension into heaven….
Of all the evangelists … it is John who makes the most of the descent–ascent motif, and of the ascension itself. That may at first glance seem an odd claim, since the fourth Gospel tells neither the story of the ascension nor those of the baptism and transfiguration…. The divine lifting up begins with his resurrection, naturally, but its true goal is a homecoming – reception in the Father’s house…
What John emphasizes is that Jesus’ destiny is our destiny; or rather that, in reaching our destiny, he has reached it not only for himself but also for us…. Having been raised from the dead and welcomed in Father’s house – he is able to arrange there a welcome for others. ‘I go to prepare a place for you.’
It is alarming that we feel no grief…. we were able to imagine something about God besides the abstractions of philosophers. At last, there was someone who knew something, and yet did not have to speak with clever eloquence. Someone we needed only to touch, someone we dared to kiss. Someone we slapped on the shoulder in a friendly way, and he did not get all upset about it. And in these trivialities we had everything _ everything incarnate: we had God, his mercy, his grace and his nearness. The eternal Word of the Father had compressed himself into our flesh…
My faith and my consolation are centered on this: that he has taken with him everything that is ours. He has ascended and he sits at the right hand of the Father…. The absolute Logos shall look at me in eternity with the face of a man. Those who theorize on the beatific vision forget this. As yet, I have read nothing about this in any modern tract in dogma. How strange! At this point pious ascetics read into the silence of the dogmaticians some sentimental anthropomorphism about joy. And what is more, they even dare – on their way to the beatific vision – to bypass the humanity of Jesus. As though we can do this so casually! Whoever ‘imagines’ things this way obviously is not sufficiently aware that God’s revelation was a man…
Because [Jesus] wanted to come close to us definitively, he has gone away and has taken us with him…. The reason for this is that his Spirit … upon whom Christ from eternity to eternity bestows the eternal fullness of life from the Father, the Spirit over and above which there is nothing that Christ could give in all eternity – this Spirit is already in us now….