By Ajit John
Reading from Hebrews, 2:5-18
5 Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels.
6 But someone has testified somewhere,
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
or mortals, that you care for them?
7 You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honor,
8 subjecting all things under their feet.”
Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them,
9 but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,
12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”
13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.”
And again, “Here am I and the children whom God has given me.”
14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,
15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.
16 For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham.
17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.
18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
The text assigned for Ascension Day sketches what took Jesus from the deepest sharing of earthly life to a favored place at the right hand of God.
This arc first comes into public view when Jesus enters the muddy waters of the Jordan at his baptism. People often ask why the sinless one needed to be baptized in the first place. The letter to the Hebrews here gives us the real reason. He had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect and be tested through suffering in this world. This arc — full identification with creatures, suffering, and glorification — is disclosed when he willingly enters into the waters of the Jordan, the mud oozing between his toes. The very earth and all creation with it, as much as the sins and sufferings of others, he takes up to heaven at the Ascension.
If he had not been willing to bend under the waters of the Jordan, he would not have been able to open his life to our temptations and our sufferings. Now at his rising and ascension, he carries these triumphs to heaven.
God could have run ahead of creaturely life and offered salvation and forgiveness in some untouchable, “virtual” way, apart from the risks, weaknesses, and specificities of our world. But he chose to touch this earth, in the reign of the Caesars, in the region of Palestine, in the Jordan. This makes sense, for one whose hands were in the creation. At the Jordan he shared our world so that he could redeem it. He shared even our death, says the letter to the Hebrews, so that he might destroy death itself.
Now he ascends to the Father and brings his wounds, and indeed the whole world, mud and all, to the throne of heaven.
The Reverend Ajit John is an associate priest at St. Paul’s L’Amoreaux, a vibrant multi-ethnic parish in Toronto, Canada.