God raised Christ from the dead
and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places!
A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley
by Andrew McKearney on Ascension Day 2018
The importance of where people sit should be very familiar to us!
In some families particular members have particular chairs; teachers have to pay attention to where people are sitting and who they’re sitting beside in class; any person running a meeting does well to keep an eye on the seating as this can affect what happens at the meeting!
When a new person moves into an office they will often change the seating arrangements; and all of us will be familiar with the thorny question of where are you going to sit when you come to church!
No wonder then that since this is so important to us, a certain amount of ritual has got attached to seating, particularly when it is connected with power.
In many contexts, who can sit where is important because it signifies their position and power within the institution, whether it’s who sits where at meal times or who sits where at meetings.
Authority is referred to as the person ‘possessing the chair’, whoever leads a meeting is referred to as the person who ‘takes the chair’, in a university context a professor is referred to as ‘holding the chair’, and the word ‘president’ means the person who ‘sits first’.
Now you don’t have to have been to many meetings or worked in many institutions to know how crucial the role of the ‘chair’ is! So inevitably some of the most elaborate rituals surround the very simple act of the chair being occupied!
Seating matters to us!
Holding all this in our minds helps us to understand some of the language that is used by the Church at the Ascension of Christ. Take the phrase that we heard from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
‘God raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his
right hand in the heavenly places far above all rule and
authority and power and dominion, and above every name
that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to
This is an immensely powerful symbolic way to conclude the story of Christ!
Not all the New Testament writers put it like this, but these images and symbols eventually won the day no doubt because they are so deeply satisfying spiritually. And that is why week by week when we use the Nicene Creed, we say that Christ ‘ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.’
What are we to make of this?
We refer to particular trusted people as being so-and-so’s right hand person, meaning they are of the same mind and attitude, and have the same authority and status. Someone’s right hand person has the confidence of the other to act and decide in his or her name; or again at a formal dinner, the place of honour is on the right hand of the host and hostess.
So to refer to Jesus as at the right hand of the Father is to single him out in particular as honoured by God, having the same mind and attitude, the same authority and status as God, all expressed by this placing of Christ at God’s right hand – the affirmation by God of this person’s teaching and a vindication of all that he lived and died for.
The Nicene Creed also follows the letter to the Ephesians by referring to Christ as being seated! It would be quite possible to say that Christ is standing at the right hand of the Father – for instance in Stephen’s vision in the Book of Acts, when Stephen is being stoned to death, in his vision he sees Christ ‘standing at the right hand of God’ (7.55-56).
But by saying that Christ is seated, there’s a sense of finality – he’s now seated, he’s got there, he’s arrived!
Think of the Queen and her throne, or the speaker of the House of Commons and their chair, or a Bishop coming to his Cathedral to be enthroned, or a new vicar coming to their parish – the climax to all these events is the simple act of getting the person to sit in their chair!
Do that and the job is done!
The Easter season is reaching its conclusion today with the Ascension of Christ.
Spiritually there is a lightness and a transparency about this feast as we sing and pray and think, not just about the place that Christ has in our hearts and lives, but more importantly about the place that Christ has in the purposes of God.
To do this we have to use symbolic language.
God raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places!
Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!