I am the bright Morning Star… I will give the morning star (Revelation 22:16, 2:28)
Today, Christians around the world celebrate Jesus Christ’s ascension into heaven. After his resurrection, Jesus dwelled amongst his disciples for forty days, appearing to them, dining with them, explaining the kingdom of shalom (peace) he ushered into our world, urging them to go out and be witnesses – “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”. And then Jesus was taken away, as if in a cloud, to take his seat at the heavenly throne of God. This is symbolic language meaning that Jesus has been glorified, enthroned, and exalted as sovereign ruler at the right hand side of God. There, at the throne, Christ is interceding for us, pleading our case, acting as our High Priest. That is what Christians celebrate on Ascension Day.
But this celebration of Jesus’ “going away” from his earthly dwelling, is simultaneously also reminding us of two additional and very important convictions of our faith. The one is that, as Jesus ascended into heaven, he is also still present, with us, Immanuel. Through his Holy Spirit, Christ Jesus is with us, amongst us, within us. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God our Father and the Spirit of the resurrected and ascended Christ, affecting (making real) the work of the Triune God, steering in the kingdom of God into our lives and into the world. The life giving Spirit of Christ is moving, is working, is restoring and healing this broken world. The ascended Christ is not absent from this world.
Ascension Day is also reminding us of a second faith conviction: Christ will one day return to this world. Christ will return to consummate God’s purpose with creation, to make his kingdom perfect, to make everything new, to announce the dawn of the new earth and the new heaven, and the consolation of the Triune God’s abidance with us. This promise of the Lord’s return is giving us hope, it helps us to endure, to continue being witnesses and servants of God’s future that is coming.
To explain this, Jesus is using a most beautiful metaphor. “I am the bright Morning Star”. The star of Venus, named after the Greek goddess of power and sovereignty, is next to the sun and moon the brightest object in our nightly sky, especially early in the morning. The metaphor is also referring to Numbers 24:17, where a star coming out of Jacob is promised, one that will defeat the enemies of God’s people, the Messiah. Early in the morning, after the darkness of night, the morning star brilliantly announces the dawn of a new day, the end of a dark night. It signals a new future, and new possibilities. That is where the old tradition of burying people always facing the east comes from; even for the dead the promise of a bright morning star in the east remains. And therefore Jesus also promised that, for us who endure faithfully, he will give the morning star; we will inherit the new future.
Perhaps we as Christians should, especially also in this difficult time, orient our lives towards the east (also called the orient), living with expectation and hope, living towards the new future in Christ, seeing the bright Morning Star. GvdW