The Creed, Part 7: Ascended into Heaven

The Creed tells us Jesus “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.”

Psalm 68:18-20 reads:

Thou didst ascend the high mount,
leading captives in thy train, and receiving gifts among men,
even among the rebellious,
that the Lord God may dwell there.
Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up;
God is our salvation.
Our God is a God of salvation; and to God,
the Lord, belongs escape from death.

Christian liturgical tradition has long associated this psalm with the triumphal entry of Christ into Heaven at the Ascension. The original hymn is equally triumphal and probably accompanied a liturgical celebration in which the Ark of the Covenant was brought in procession to the Temple, recalling the Exodus of Israel, the conquest of Canaan, and the establishment of the nation in the land by the power of God. It is only fitting therefore that as Christ entered the Heavenly Temple of the New Jerusalem to sit in greater glory than David or Solomon, the Church should see the psalm as an anticipation of him. In the Ascension, the day has dawned when man is now present in Heaven in the person of the Son of Man, Christ Jesus. Because he is already there, we who are in him are there as well, because “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-6).

In the Rosary, the Glorious Mystery of the Ascension is traditionally associated with prayer for the virtue of Hope. Hope is oriented not so much toward the future as toward eternity and the fact that the same God we have known and know now is not going to abandon us. It is curious that this faith that Jesus will not abandon us is associated with the moment in the gospel where Jesus leaves us. But, as Luke makes clear, Jesus is not really leaving. For the gospel Luke has just written only tells us of what Jesus “began” to do and teach (Acts 1:1). His entire earthly ministry is only the spark. The Church, filled with his Spirit, is the fire and he is now to continue his work in a way more intimate with us than it was during his earthly ministry. That is why he himself said, “But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:5-7).

Biblically, to be seated is to be in repose. Not asleep. Not watching TV. Not “doing nothing.” But secure in one’s dominion. In antiquity, judges were seated. So were monarchs when they were enthroned. To say that Jesus is “seated” is to say he now reigns. To be sure, there is still work to be done. But it is in the nature of “mop up,” not in the nature of “deciding the battle.” The worst thing that could ever have happened in the universe has already happened—and God has turned it into the best thing. God has already been killed. Compared with that, everything is pretty small beer. But the death of God on the Cross has led to the life of the world. Jesus has entered on his reign. He is enthroned as King at the Father’s right hand—now.

The “right hand” was the “good” hand in antiquity. The hand that pours out blessing, the hand that holds the sceptre, the hand that works, acts, fights. The hand is the locus of action. We do not theorize with our hands, we act with them. We do things. Jesus, seated that the right hand of the Father, does things. And he empowers us to do things too—by his Spirit. Thus, when Peter appeals to the crowd at Pentecost he doesn’t tell them God has poured out a concept or an idea. He has poured out “that which you see and hear.” Catholic Faith is still the same today. To be sure, we walk by faith and not by sight. But the fruit of our faith is still visible in the incarnate signs and acts of love we bear to the world. All these are poured out on us from Jesus, seated at the right hand of God the Father.


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