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The Feast of the Ascension | By The Rev. Warren Swenson

Moments ago, we prayed with the psalmist, “The Lord is King; he has put on splendid apparel.” I am convinced that these words are just as true in our day as they were in the Psalmist’s. And I am convinced that these words are just as true today as they were on the first Ascension Day. But mostly I am convinced that these words were just as true on the first Ascension Day as they were on the first Christmas Day, the day that God’s “splendid apparel” for the first time meant flesh. Remembering that Jesus was clothed in flesh is as crucial on the Feast of the Ascension as it ever is. Why? Because he still has it on. When God who dwells in heaven chose also to dwell on earth, the Word was made flesh. And that same flesh Mary bore, so his whole life long he wore: preaching, teaching, weeping—all in the flesh. Baptized in the flesh. Crucified in the flesh. Buried in the flesh. It didn’t stop there! Though God did raise him from the dead, his mortal form he did not shed. There was more to be done: walk to Emmaus in the flesh; appear to the apostles in the flesh; eat a piece of fish in the flesh; open their minds to understand in the scriptures in the flesh. He led them out as far as Bethany in the flesh, and while he was blessing them in the flesh, he was carried up into heaven . . . in the flesh. I cannot explain the mechanics of any of this, but the mechanics aren’t the point. The point is, the same flesh Jesus put on at Christmas, he took with him at the Ascension. As a result, the very essence of our humanity is now united with God.

It’s remarkable. From the heart of God comes Jesus, who takes on our humanity, and who then takes our humanity back into the heart of God. This does not make us equal to God. Nor does this mean that God is bound by our mortality. God is still God, and we still are not. But it does mean that God has chosen never to be apart from us. It is in that choice that we find God’s most profound promise: God is with us always. In the midst of our suffering, fear, and confusion—God is with us. In the midst of our joy, and pride, and clarity—God is with us. It really is remarkable. God didn’t just try on our human nature for a season. It wasn’t a quick stop in the dressing room. “The 32-inch waist is just fine, but I’d like to try an athletic fit.” This was not something he tried just to say he’d had the experience. “Yes, I’ve seen Mount Rushmore.” “No thanks, I’ve had calamari before.” Even after sharing in a life like ours and suffering a death like ours, God said, I will not let this go. I will share in this forever. Can you imagine a love like that? This is a love that cares so deeply for us that it will never ever be done with us. This is a love far, far beyond us, but one that commits never to be separate from us. This is a love that says, wherever I am, wherever I go, however I get there, you will always be a part of me. Attached. Connected. Fixed.

And this is a love that asks us be its witnesses even to the ends of the earth. That’s really difficult to do. And it’s okay if we don’t always do it perfectly. The point is, we can, with God’s help, by virtue of the flesh that unites us—the flesh of Jesus’ life, of his death, of his resurrection and ascension—our flesh—the most splendid apparel of all.

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