Last week, my boys got to eat some of Joe Biden’s cookies, which got me to thinking about the ascension of Jesus Christ.
Some context will explain the connection.
My brother is an Air Force pilot, and recently was promoted to serve as one of the pilots for Air Force Two. It’s a pretty sweet gig, and I suppose I can (grudgingly) admit that (in this one particular area) he is (perhaps) cooler than me. Well done, little brother, well done.
Air Force Two, though technically a call-sign and not an actual plane, is primarily responsible for flying the Vice President, Secretary of State, and First Lady all around the world, though it also transports various other high-level dignitaries and heads of state. Last week, my brother was on the schedule to fly Joe Biden into town in order to speak at the University of Pittsburgh. He called us in advance to let us know that on trips like this they usually set up private tours of the plane while it’s on the ground for any family and friends of the crew who may live nearby. Given that, he wanted to see if we’d be able to take my boys out of school for the day to tour the plane while Biden was speaking.
Of course we said yes, so the four of us drove to the Air National Guard base, went through several levels of security screening and clearances, got debriefed by Secret Service, and then took a bus out on the tarmac to get to tour the plane with about a dozen other civilians. [We were allowed to take a few pictures outside, but had to hand over phones/cameras before going in.]
It was a pretty incredible experience all around. The whole setup is impressive, but the best part was probably when my boys got to sit in the cockpit in their uncle’s chair and pretend to fly his plane. Later on, a crew member was setting up plates with various snacks for Biden and his team when they returned. She noticed my boys casting furtive glances at the cookies, and, with a smile, gave them some.
So, as they snacked on Joe Biden’s cookies, I got to thinking about the ascension. There’s the context, now here’s the connection.
I didn’t get to go onboard Air Force Two because of anything about who I am or what I’ve done. I only got to go onboard because my brother has a rightful seat on that plane. The access we had was only because of him.
We’re in the part of the liturgical year where we celebrate Jesus’ time of resurrection on earth–a time which leads up to his ascension–but I’m not sure we always consider the full significance of having a risen, living Lord seated at the right hand of the Father. Scripture talks about us being “raised with Christ [who is] seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1), and being “seated with him in the heavenly places” (Eph 2:6). Because of the rightful seat that Christ occupies, we can be invited in to enjoy the blessings that he shares with his people.
Now, like any illustration, this breaks down at a few points. It obviously cannot hold any trinitarian theological water, so to speak (my brother still has people who outrank him, and he is subordinate to, and separate from, whatever dignitary he is flying). Nor does it bear any real christological weight (there was a time when he was not a pilot, and he had to earn his way up the ranks). Still, the basic point holds true: because of who he is, what he has done, and what he is doing, we were able to experience something that would otherwise be entirely off-limits to us.
Jesus Christ, we are told, is “not ashamed to call [us] brothers” (Hebrews 2:11; a staggering thought in and of itself!), and a risen, ascended Jesus means that we have someone who “always lives to make intercession” for his people (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34). It means we have an advocate continually presenting us and bearing our names before the Father (like how Aaron would bear the names of the tribes of Israel on his breastplate into the Holy of Holies); and it means that we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). We couldn’t do any of this without a risen, ascended Lord who ushers his people into the courts of his Father.
*I got to tell this story and talk about this idea more during a recent radio interview, the podcast of which can be found here. I join the show at about the 16 min mark.