“What goes up must come down” is a catchy little phrase that describes gravity, a fundamental law of nature.
However, when it comes to spiritual matters, the exact opposite is true: what comes down must go up!
Jesus came down from heaven and took on flesh. He lived, died, and rose again from the dead. Forty days later he ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives while his disciples watched him disappear into the clouds. Two angels appeared to the gathered group and asked, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky? . . . [Jesus] has been taken from you into heaven” (Acts 1:11). In other words, what comes down must go up.
The one true map marking the path forward is the life of Jesus. If it’s true for Jesus, it’s true for those who follow him. Jesus humbled himself and took on human flesh. He also ascended. Jesus taught his disciples in Matthew 23:12, “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” This passage also captures this strange spiritual law—what comes down must (or will) go up. If we humble ourselves and bow our knees to Jesus, we’ll ascend too. We’ll rise in the air to meet the Lord Jesus when he comes again in his glory. While we wait for that day, we practice ascension now when we celebrate communion.
Our communion liturgy puts these words before us: “Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord.” The refrain we say together is more than just a heartfelt expression. It is an acknowledgement that in order to eat and drink the body of Christ, we have to ascend. The Spirit of God will have to lift us up into the heavenly throne room where Christ, in the body, reigns in glory.
Seminary professor Thomas Boogaart describes this reality in his book Heaven Came Down: Biblical Stories of Spiritual Influences (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformed Church Press, 1998) when he says:
In the Reformed Tradition, communion is ascension. Although very few people realize it, the communion liturgy lifts us up step by step up Jacob’s ladder into the presence of God where Jesus sits on the right hand and the angels and the saints all have their places around the banqueting table. . . . Once having passed through the gate of heaven . . . we add our voices to theirs in singing the song of heaven: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of hosts! . . . Having praised the Lord of hosts, we begin the banquet. Jesus is both host and meal. His body and blood are made available to us. During the communion service his Spirit raises us up to heaven, which is the only place where Jesus’ body is available.
Many Christian churches around the world acknowledge and celebrate the ascension of Jesus in worship. Jesus had to ascend so that he could take his rightful place at the right hand of God as the exalted King of heaven and earth. From there, he will send the promised Spirit to empower the church to be his hands and feet in the world. As the church does its reconciling work in the world, the Spirit lifts the church into the throne room to be nurtured by the body and blood of Jesus. We eagerly await the gift of the Spirit on Pentecost, but first Jesus has to ascend. And as Jesus ascended, we will too: what comes down must go up!
Christopher Wordsworth (1807–85) perhaps says it better in his hymn “See, the Conqueror Mounts in Triumph.” He captures the essence of Jesus’ ascension (and ours too!) when he writes:
You have raised our human nature
on the clouds to God’s right hand;
there we sit in heavenly places,
there with you in glory stand.
Jesus reigns, adored by angels,
man with God is on the throne!
Mighty Lord, in your ascension
we by faith can see our own.
—Christopher Wordsworth, 1862, alt.