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Ephesians 1:11-23

When is the last time that you preached on the ascension? I do not have the data to back it up, but my guess is most Christians do not often think of the ascension when they think of Jesus. This statement probably applies to theologians and preachers as well. In protestant circles the greatest emphasis has been placed on Jesus’ crucifixion. Sure people know a lot about the birth narrative, but it has primarily become a story about nostalgia rather than a revolutionary tale of the birth of a king. While that story has been domesticated and the resurrection has been treated like a blip, most preachers do not preach on the ascension. If we are going to be preaching the gospel we would do well to preach the full Gospel. We cannot merely preach that people go to heaven when they die. At Olivet Nazarene University’s Theological Leadership Conference N.T. Wright called this vision of the gospel “sub-Biblical.” He went on to say that “Some Christians would be content if Jesus had been born on a Monday and crucified on Friday. The story of Jesus get reduced to birth and crucifixion. The gospel is more than Jesus’ death. It is more than his resurrection. It includes the ascension. In fact, in Atonement and the Logic of Resurrection in the Epistle to the Hebrews David Moffitt says,

The resurrection is the event that qualifies [Jesus] to become the high priest he now is. The ascension brings Jesus’ immortal humanity into heaven. Because he arose into his high priesthood, Jesus entered into God’s presence in heaven. There he made his  atoning offering. After making that offering, he took his seat at the throne at God’s right hand. The final event… is the moment when the living Jesus will return to earth and bring salvation- the fullness of all God’s promises- to those who faithfully endure in their confession of him. [1]

In Hebrews, atonement is not effected until after the ascension! This is no small theological shift. It impresses upon us the importance of the ascension.  Once we have given the ascension a second thought, we see it throughout the pages of the new testament. 

The Epistle for All Saints is no exception to this thought. It crescendo’s to Christ’s exalted, heavenly rule. Even here, the heavenly rule is not some neat theological artifact, but it is essential to proper Christian hope. Paul prayed that the Ephesian’s eyes might be enlightened so that they would have a proper vision for their hope. This vision is not one of clouds, harps, pearly gates, and angels wings. The vision for our hope is Christ enthroned. It is Christ ruling with all power and dominion over all names.

Contrary to what we might think, Jesus’ rule is not simply a future reality, it is true now. Interestingly, Paul emphasizes this future rule of Christ. In the NRSV it reads: “not only in this age but also in the age to come.” This phrasing makes it seem as though the Ephesians definitely believed that Christ was ruling now, but they were not so certain as to the future. Most Christians today doubt that Christ is ruling now. Dispensational theology has taught people to think that Jesus’ reign is entirely future. Most North American Christians think there must be 7 years of tribulation before Christ’s reign can occur. The prevalence of pre-millennial thought has blinded us from seeing that Christ is ruling now.

On All Saints we may be tempted to turn on a nostalgic interpretation of sainthood. We can use this as a time of mourning for those who we have lost. Lament and mourning are neglected, therefore this is a good thing for us to do. Yet there is room to follow this passage closely. On All Saints Day when people are remembering the saints who have passed, we can use this time to preach to Christ’s rule which has already begun.

We can see that Christ’s heavenly rule is “for the church.” That the Church is the “fullness of him who fills all in all.” On this day we can be reminded that our hope is to become the church, Christ’s body. Those who have passed on have become a part of the Church triumphant, but their witness ought to be one which inspires us to live more and more like Christ. If he is ruling over all things now, then he should rule in our lives now.

Perhaps for your congregation All Saints is a time when you and your people are more willing to engage in talk of death. May this be a day when they are reminded that Jesus has conquered the grave, that he is reigning, and that we have no need to fear death. May All Saints be a day when your people get to celebrate Christ’s victory as the church militant remembers the Communion of Saints, the church Triumphant. Perhaps It is a day to sing The Church’s One Foundation and Victory in Jesus. Perhaps it is a day to challenge people to live as if Jesus is King, for Jesus is king.