What comes down, goes up

Jonathan Rowe, 21 May 2023

Acts 1:1–11; Luke 24:44–53

When was the last time you tried to throw a ball as high as you could? The thing is, however hard one throws a ball into the air, it falls down again – it’s called gravity! – and we learn the truth of the saying, ‘what goes up, comes down’. We usually use that phrase to describe something inevitable, like a law of nature.

But the story of the ascension turns this law on its head. It’s not a case of ‘what goes up, comes down’, but ‘what comes down, goes up’. And here’s the thing, Jesus’ ascension and return to his Father is like a law of nature: it’s the natural and logical thing, for he returns whence he came.

We are familiar with the hymn in Philippians that describes Christ’s trajectory from having equality with God, to humbling himself – even to death upon a cross – and then God exalting him so that every knee should bow and confess that Jesus is Lord.

And at Christmas every year, we hear how the Word who was with God, who was God, became flesh – the beginning of a narrative that ends with Jesus’ resurrection. The New Testament contains other instances of the same story, especially in the letters to the Colossians and Hebrews. They start by describing Jesus as with God or as like God. In other words, before his life and ministry on earth, Jesus is at home with God. And so, it’s natural that Jesus returns home to be with his Father. After all, ‘what comes down, goes up’. This is what we mark on Ascension Sunday as Jesus goes home, as it were, to God.

I wonder what comes to mind when you think of home. For some, home can be a difficult place. But for many, home is a place where one can grow and learn and be oneself; a place of feeling safe and secure.

It’s normal for many people to leave their parents’ home, to depart from the familiar and venture to another place. Yet the allure of supportive kith and kin remains.

So – regardless of our wealth and well-being, despite our lack of wealth, perhaps; regardless of where we are, despite moving house, town or country – we say, ‘home is where the heart is’. It’s an aphorism that highlights the link between our priorities and where we feel safe and secure. ‘Home is where the heart is’ because we think that relationships are more important than anything else we might want.

In the fifth century the great Christian bishop and saint, Augustine of Hippo, made a similar link between home and heart. Addressing God, he said, ‘You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you’ (Confessions 1.1.1).

Augustine starts with a statement about who people are: we are made for God. We might say that our natural home is with God. Because we are made for God, nothing apart from God satisfies our hearts: we are restless because we are homeless. Only when we find our home in God do other things take their proper place and our hearts find peace.

Our natural home is with God. Because we are made for God, nothing apart from God satisfies our hearts: we are restless because we are homeless.

Now, what does this have to do with today’s celebration of Jesus’ ascension? Well, to put things as succinctly as possible, when Jesus ascended to his Father, he enabled us to find our home with God.

How? Ascending to God and seated in the heavenly realms, he ceased to be constrained in time and place. Far from being distant, therefore, the ascension means that Jesus can be – and is – close to us. Because the ascended Christ no longer has a bodily form, he is with us now.

And, as the letter to the Ephesians explains, those who have been made alive in Christ are seated with him (Ephesians 2:6). Right now, you are sat down, but you are not simply seated in St Paul’s or St Matthew’s but in the heavenly realms. You are at home with God.

This morning, I don’t want to exhort you to do anything. I don’t want to commend anything to you. I simply want to point to this fact: that what comes down, must go up. And so Jesus comes from God and returns to God, leaves home and goes home. His ascension means that however we have fallen down in life we, too, can rise. Jesus’ ascension means our hearts need be restless no longer; we can be secure in God’s love – at home. Amen.