Northern lights, cicadas, and the hope of Ascension Sunday

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Northern lights, cicadas, and the hope of Ascension Sunday

May 13, 2024 -

The northern lights, or aurora borealis, are visible over Lake Washington, in Renton, Wash., on Friday evening, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

The northern lights, or aurora borealis, are visible over Lake Washington, in Renton, Wash., on Friday evening, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

The northern lights, or aurora borealis, are visible over Lake Washington, in Renton, Wash., on Friday evening, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

The images are stunning: the aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, captivated the world over the weekend. Because of a rare solar storm, the neon rays of magenta, green, and blue were visible across the northern hemisphere as far south as Louisiana.

Here’s more news from nature: trillions of cicadas are emerging from the ground all around the US. Two different broods are coming out at the same time; this last happened when Thomas Jefferson was president. According to one expert, “It’s going to be a smorgasbord of lots and lots of food” for species who eat them.

If that news is less than appetizing, consider this: according to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, “We have the good fortune to be part of what is probably the greatest improvement in life expectancy, nutrition, and health that has ever unfolded in one lifetime.”

He cites one example: one hundred years ago, President Calvin Coolidge’s sixteen-year-old son developed a blister on a toe while playing tennis on the White House court. It became infected, and without antibiotics, the boy died within a week. Today, as Kristof reports, “the most impoverished child in the United States on Medicaid has access to better health care than the president’s son did a century ago.”

This is good news indeed. However, our greatest source of hope is one many evangelicals might have overlooked yesterday.

“I am with you always”

The Bible reports that after his resurrection, Jesus “presented himself alive” to his disciples “after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Then “he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (v. 9).

Calculating from Easter Sunday forward, the miracle of ascension would be dated this year on May 9, making yesterday Ascension Sunday. This event is typically celebrated more by liturgical Christians than by evangelicals. When we reflect on Jesus’ return to heaven, we usually remember the angels’ pronouncement to the disciples that he “will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (v. 11) and focus on the urgency of being ready for his return.

However, between Jesus’ first coming and his second, there is his promise, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). And with it, this fact:

Our Lord is more available to our world now than at any time in human history.

Why is this true?

“While in heaven he is also with us”

Right now, Jesus Christ is praying for you. Scripture assures us that he “is at the right hand of God” where he “indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). In fact, we are told that “he always lives to make intercession” for us (Hebrews 7:25).

When Jesus was in his earthly body, he could not do what he can now do on his heavenly throne. He is no longer limited by locational physicality. Nor must he spend time eating, sleeping, and traveling. His omniscience is no longer bound by time; he has all of eternity to pray just for you.

With his ascension, as St. Leo the Great (c. 400–461) noted:

The Son of Man was revealed as Son of God in a more perfect and transcendent way once he had entered into his Father’s glory; he now began to be indescribably more present in his divinity to those from whom he was further removed in his humanity.

But there’s even more: Jesus is continuing his earthly ministry today through his church as the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27). This is why he could ask Saul of Tarsus, on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). St. Augustine observed: “While in heaven he is also with us; and we while on earth are with him. He is here with us by his divinity, his power, and his love.” He added that Jesus “is our head and we are his body. . . . the body as a unity cannot be separated from the head.”

Twenty centuries ago, Jesus could serve only where he could travel in his incarnate body. Now he serves through 2.2 billion bodies. As his church continues to expand in number and scope, so Jesus’ ministry continues to expand around the globe.

There are more Christians in the world today than ever before. As a result, Jesus is more present to the world today than ever before.

No other religion claims that their deity became one of us and is now one with us and in us. Consequently, you and I have a hope to offer that is found nowhere else. The more difficult the times, the more urgent and powerful our message.

“And then the end will come”

This global extension of Jesus’ earthly ministry is according to his plan: “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).

On that day, “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17).

And every day will be Ascension Day.

If it were today, would you be ready?

If not, why not?

Monday news to know:

Quote for the day:

“Nothing in or of this world measures up to the simple pleasure of experiencing the presence of God.” —A. W. Tozer

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