Monday, 28 April 2008

Thoughts for Ascension Day

[Granted, we started this blog to keep all of you, our friends and family, in the loop with our active little lives. But our day to day regimen is filled with thinking and talking about the things we find important, especially about the Christian faith. Here’s an important theme I (Nathan) have been chewing on lately.]

The Church celebrates Ascension Day this year on Thursday, May 1. Forty days after Easter Sunday, it marks the lifting up of the risen Jesus Christ into heaven. I’ve read that congregations used to consider it a major festival of the Christian year, but few people now (for various reasons) reckon it to be of much worth theologically or practically. Reading Douglas Farrow’s provocative book, Ascension and Ecclesia, has me rethinking the matter. May I share with you four earth-shaking implications of this event for Christians?

1) The ascension means the risen Christ has entered into His eternal ministry as our high priest. At the resurrection Jesus Christ was given eternal life, and with it all authority to judge. As the one who had taken humanity’s place, living and dying as our representative before God, He was at Easter bestowed with the special right to speak on behalf of humanity. Jesus’ ascension into heaven signaled His entrance into that very capacity. Even now, “He sits at the right hand of the Father,” meaning He has the highest authority. And He has God’s ear. The Father always listens to Him. If the Son says, “Forgive that woman who keeps nagging at her kids,” the Father does. If the Son says, “Sanctify that guy in Des Moines with the drinking problem,” the Father grants it. All us idiots need His intervening prayers. Indeed, “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25). He lives. And He lives to be on our side. How amazing that we don’t need to be terrified of God’s judgment anymore! Jesus – not just God’s Son, but one of our very own – has entered into heaven’s court to act as our eternal defender. We mistakenly think of salvation as being some kind of static idea which happened only at the cross. Not so. Jesus Christ saves us even now. Aren’t Jesus’ actions telling as He disappears into the clouds?: “While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:51). He has been blessing us ever since.

2) The ascension means Jesus Christ is absent. I know this sounds terrible and impious, even untrue. Did not Jesus say He would be with us to the very end of the age (Mt 28:20)? Did not the disciples go away with great joy after the ascension (Lk 24:52)? Yes, but the fact of the matter is that Jesus Christ was not there anymore. He could not be seen or heard or touched like He had in the forty days after Easter. “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God,” Paul writes (Rom 8:19). We have much weight to groan under in a world of schoolyard bullying, inescapable poverty, credit fraud, chemical warfare, shattered marriages, prostitution and crime, ADD and Down’s, miscarriage and abortion – all the moral and biological evils we experience in the continuum of suffering and dying and death. The truth is, Jesus could have stopped it all. As the resurrected King, He could have raised us all too that very moment – but He didn’t. What surprised sadness the disciples must have experienced when, asking if He would now restore the kingdom of Israel, Jesus effectively tells them No (Acts 1:6-7). Instead, He ascends into that other place, heaven, the place far from us. We live and wait in that absence.

3) The ascension means Jesus Christ has filled that absence with the witnessing Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, the word and sacraments. If the ascension leaves an absence, it is an absence pregant enough to include us: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Do you realize how incredible this is? That we should be His witnesses, His spokesmen, His heralds? That this is the reason He has delayed the final judgment, to permit others to repent and believe when they hear our testimony? This is the case. This Church, this pitiful group of disciples, will go out into the world with the good news that He is risen. If the Church does not speak, it is missing out on its very reason for being! Fortunately, Christ has not left us alone in this mission, for He has sent the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to be with us (Jn 14:15-18, 16:7). We can therefore speak and live and minister with the authority of Christ. Now I must clarify something straight away: This does not mean that we are the new Jesus Christ or a continuation of His incarnation. Not by a long shot. We are not “Jesus with skin on” (as I heard someone say recently), for Jesus already has His own body thank you very much. And, to speak biblically, He primarily is the one testifying to Himself through the Spirit, calling people and awakening them to faith. But He still wants us, as His little brothers and sisters indwelt by the Spirit, in on the deal. He insists that His followers go out and testify to His resurrection, whispering and speaking and shouting out that He is Lord and Saviour of the world and that in Him is eternal life. Also as a priceless gift for this task is the Bible, the word of God in which we meet the Word of God. What’s more, we are nourished by the sacraments of baptism and the eucharist. With regard to the latter, Douglas Farrow makes the interesting point that the Lord’s supper ushers us into the eschatological presence of Christ, something made possible only after the ascension, for “[o]nly then did its eucharistic form become necessary, somehow anticipating a second and more profound ‘change in the darkness and matter’ that is yet to come” (Farrow, p. 10). The word and sacraments are indispensable tokens of Christ’s presence on the road between Christ’s resurrection and the general resurrection at His return, so that in this middle time, this “Church age,” we witness with confidence and joy in the Spirit.

4) The ascension means He is at work in heaven preparing our eternal abode. On one hand, we can reason on the ground of the ascension that if Christ is in heaven, we too are welcome there. The Heidelberg Catechism (Q49) declares that “we have our own flesh in heaven,” guaranteeing that Christ will welcome us other fleshy people there too. But the news gets better – or, I should say, more specific – than that. We’re not supposed to live in heaven, dead or alive. It’s not our home. It’s only the workshop. In a remarkable speech, Jesus tells His disciples, “In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (Jn 14:2-3). Jesus didn’t ascend to prepare heaven for our disembodied souls to find repose. He went to heaven to build a mansion, a whole new place, for us to live in once He returns at the end of time. Truly, the One who ascended will be the One who descends. Then, raising the dead and enacting the final judgment, He will give this new mansion, this new city, to His beloved people. He will raise them into everlasting bodies and give them an everlasting playground. Can any of us fathom what will it be like? “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:2). Heaven will come down to earth with Christ. So will the dead Christians (1 Ths 4:14). All who are given the gift of Christ’s resurrection body will live in that amazing, earthly place. A resplendent, bride-like people will live in their resplendent, bride-like home.

How can one not celebrate this festival? The ascended Christ is busy not only interceding for me in heaven and equipping me here on earth to live a Spirit-led life of witness - He is busy preparing my dream home for an endless day of joy. That, I think, is plenty reason to party it up on Ascension Day.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Top Ten Denmark Memories

Last week the three of us headed over to the land of my uncle and aunt. It's worth sharing.

10) Playing with solar mirrors. My uncle John will someday either rule the world or save the world or destroy the world through his inventions – we don’t know which. In any case, we had fun discussing his various ideas, including improvements in solar heating with mirrors. He showed me how overlapping ten “suns” would burn a hole through my chest. Okay, maybe not, but things got hot quick.

9) Walking the canals of Copenhagen. The city, we found, was laid out very nicely with plenty of shops, restaurants and museums to keep anyone busy. A nice touch was the canal system crossing through part of Copenhagen, on which people take boat rides or (for sinister kicks) throw in cheap bikes.

8) Watching and discussing Adam’s Aebler. Take one part Tarantino, one part existential Christianity, one part Medieval morality play, submerge it in Danish lager, and you have the movie “Adam’s Apples.” We really liked its quirky inversion of the Garden of Eden and the book of Job in order to explore the relationship of faith and reason, ethics and knowledge.

7) Deciphering all the imagery in Roskilde Cathedral. The churches in Denmark have a long history, and have been state sponsored for centuries now, creating a bizarre, well moneyed amalgamation of religious and civic imagery. The cathedral in Roskilde felt most overwhelming with its towering ceilings, ornate (largely Roman Catholic influenced) art, housing dozens of burial sites of powerful kings and clergymen. Christina and I had a fun time figuring out the wood carvings of the Christian history of salvation, Genesis to Revelation.

6) The ceiling art in Tuse Church. Even more impressive to us was the humble country church in Tuse. Dating back to the late medieval period, this building still bears ancient apocalyptic artwork on its ceilings. I (Nathan) couldn’t stop blathering on about the place of the resurrection of the body and the Last Judgment for the historical Christian consciousness. Eventually a woman with a group of bored-to-death confirmands kicked us out.

5) Wandering the dungeons of Elsinore Castle. Remember? The castle from Hamlet. The upper chambers are impressive, no doubt, but the underground barracks/storage/prison area made the mind run wild.

3T) Throwing A.J. around. I hadn’t met either of my cousins, each of whom were born in the last decade. The younger, A.J., decided I was prime material for a jungle gym. We had a blast monkeying about, and managed to get in trouble at Elsinore for playing tag in the ballroom.

3T) Watching Alex entertain Z. Alex, the elder, had not only a wonderful goofy side, but also a real brotherly affection for Lazarus. He whipped up all sorts of song and dance, and could be found pushing Z around, giving him tours of little parts of Denmark.

2) The Viking Ship Museum. All of us enjoyed going to a museum enshrining five authentic Viking ships dredged up from a local fjord. I wish we Americans had manly, pillaging ancestors like that.

1) Eating one of the most praiseworthy slabs of beef on Earth. I’m not sure who sold a soul for this beef loin, but we were served by my aunt and uncle one of the finest meals possible. With a red wine and garlic sauce drenching the whole thing we were falling over ourselves for more helpings. In fact, we ate like kings and queens from breakfast to dinner every day. Museums? Churches? Kirkegaard birthplace? Bah. Bring out the cuisine and catch up on old times. That tops all.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Half a Decade

Thanks to everyone who remembered our anniversary! Yes, we've been married for five years, as of April 12. Half a decade seems like a long time, but it's flown by with much fun, excitement and happiness. We had a great anniversary date when some good friends from church babysat Z and we went to a Josh Ritter concert. It was a small venue with a very enthusiastic audience. Ritter obviously was enjoying himself and was very appreciative of the crowd. We had a terrific time. Below you'll find one of our favorite songs from his new album. The song's called "The Temptation of Adam." By the way, for you Lawrence folks, Ritter will be playing at the Granada on May 11. It's a great show!

Monday, 14 April 2008

A Night at Barony Castle, Borders

South of Edinburgh, the land straddling Scotland and England, appropriately is called the Borders. We headed there last week to explore some of the area and stay a night at the Barony Castle (pictured above). Christina and I agreed that it was the first excursion we had had where we genuinely felt relaxed. The castle was impressive, but not so much as its setting, 25 acres of woodland surrounded by pastureland as far as the eye could see. It even had a waterfall and a ropes course! And Eddleston, the quaint town at the foot of the hill, looked like the perfect place to read books all day. If you're an Eddlestonian in Peeblesshire and need a house-sitter for a month or three this summer, and are reading this blog, PLEASE contact us.

The trip also proved revealing of Christina's inner girlygirl. Being early April, lambing season had commenced, and so dozens of baby sheep were busy playing in the meadows. Every thirty seconds - I kid you not - Dr Hitchcock squealed, "How cuuuuute!" "Oh! Look at the babies!" "Soooooo cuuuuuuute! Soooooooooooooooo cuuuuuuuute!" She couldn't stop herself from exclaiming - and I couldn't stop laughing.

(pic. 1a. These newborns had figured out the game King of the Hill)

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Sunday, 6 April 2008