Bringing Heaven Down To Earth

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Friday, May 26, 2006

Report on 'With a Shout!' Ascension conference

xpost with CICW Worship Weblog

Scott Hoezee began the conference 'With a Shout: What Difference Does the Ascension Make for Everyday Life?' conference with a stirring meditation this morning entitled "Ascension Audacity."

"This is not a day for modest claims," Hoezee said, asserting that to celebrate Christ's ascension is to celebrate his rule over the entire cosmos.

In an equally passionate plenary address following worship, Gerrit Scott Dawson sketched out the significance of the Ascension (introducing Dawson, Smit called his book Jesus Ascended one of the best things she's read on the Ascension--and she's read up on this topic). Dawson said the ascended Christ is like Valjean in Les Miserables, who descends into the sewers of Paris with the wounded Marius on his shoulders, then resurfaces to bring him to a place of healing. "God descends to where we are, enters our filth, finds our mortally wounded humanity, carries us through the sewers of this world, and up to heaven."

The fact that Christ continues to have a bodily existence in heaven, baffling as that is--"you have to admit, the Ascension is bizarre," Dawson said, later calling it "the most challenging intellectual doctrine ever created"--represents an exalting of our humanity, and keeps us from "spiritualizing the Ascension," he said.

Dawson quoted Karl Barth on the Ascension; Barth said Christ's human body was "a clothing he does not put off. It is His temple which He does not leave. It is the form which He does not lose." He also quoted Calvin, whose body was prone to constant ailments and looked to Christ's glorified body in heaven as what we will become after the resurrection of the body:

Although I am weak, there is Jesus Christ ... powerful enough to make me stand.
Although I am feeble, there is Jesus Christ who is my strength.
Although I am full of miseries, Jesus Christ is in immortal glory and what He has will some time be given to me and I shall partake of all His benefits.


Thomas Boogaart then presented the Ascension from an Old Testament perspective. He gave the poignant metaphor of "the road between heaven and earth," a metaphor that encapsulates both the Old and New Testaments--the Israelites, the angels, and the prophets (such as Isaiah in Isaiah 6 and Paul in Acts 8) traveled that road. The end of the road is God's house, where we belong, where we will feast, where we long to be. And so, "the Ascension is not just an idea, it is a way of viewing the world." Seeing ourselves as travelers on that road--and making our own houses as much like God's house as we can, practicing hospitality--is how we live out our witness to Christ's ascension.

That was just the morning! The afternoon continued with plenaries and breakout sessions, many of which will be available soon at the Calvin Seminary audio lecture archive. Also see this Vital Worship feature story and links on the Ascension.

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