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“On Christ’s Ascension I Now Build” TLH Hymn 216


“On Christ’s ascension I now build/ The hope of mine ascension.” (verse 1)

When Christ returns on Judgment Day, you, along with all believers, will ascend bodily into heaven, to be forever with Him where there is no sorrow, no tear, and everlasting joy.  This fundamental Christian doctrine is scorned by many “modernists” as “pie in the sky bye and bye”—mere wishful thinking.  However, our confidence in this truth is unshakably founded on the inerrant Word of God and confirmed by the historical fact of Christ’s Ascension.

In John 14:2-3, Jesus tells His disciples, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”  When the resurrected Jesus later visibly ascended into heaven, that historical event—witnessed by the apostles—confirmed His promise.  Josua Wegelin (1604-1640) provides an additional reason for our assurance.  He writes, “For where the Head is, there full well/ I know His members are to dwell/ When Christ shall come and call them.” (verse 1)

American readers today may slightly misunderstand the “members” part of that sentence.  Our modern usage of the term usually refers to a number of undifferentiated equals joined together in some organization, such as members of a club, or voters in a parliamentary group.  The original meaning, however, is nearly the opposite.  It refers to what we would probably call “organs” or “body parts.”  That is the sense in which it’s used in I Corinthians 12:12-31, where we learn that every Christian is a member (that is, a body part) of the body of Christ, even though we are all different from one another in many ways.  So also in this second part of verse 1, Wegelin uses this biblical picture of all Christians being members of the body of Christ as an additional reason why we can be confident of our own ascension.  We are members (parts) of Christ’s body, the Church.  The Head of that body is now in heaven, so certainly the other body parts will be there also.

The last two verses of this hymn turn our attention to our daily walk as Christians in this world, waiting for the time when we, too, shall ascend to be with Christ.  The focus of our lives, first and foremost, is to be characterized by trust in Him: “My heart shall rest in Him alone,/ No other rest remaining. (verse 2)  How foolish we are if we look to earthly fame or fortune for our sense of wellbeing and success!  Those things are seldom attained and always short-lived. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells His believers, “‘Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’” (Matthew 6:19-21)  In like manner, this hymn proclaims, “For where my Treasure went before,/ There all my tho’ts shall ever soar/ To still their deepest yearning.” (verse 2)

I’ve struggled with the phrase “adorning Thy redemption” in verse 3.  To adorn something is to enhance, lend beauty to, or decorate it as if with ornaments.  Wegelin writes, “Oh, grant, dear Lord, this grace to me,/ Recalling Thine ascension,/ That I may ever walk with Thee, Adorning Thy redemption.”  Certainly, there is nothing we can do to enhance Christ’s redemption.  However, the phrase is no doubt intended as a poetic way of saying that we are to live our lives “as is fitting for saints.” (Ephesians 5:3).  That is, we pray here that we may do nothing that would in any way sully the reputation of Him Who has redeemed us, to Whom we will one day rise bodily to eternal life.

Lord, grant this unto us all.

Craig Owings is a retired teacher and serves as assistant editor of the Lutheran Spokesman. He lives in Cape Coral, Florida.