By Patricia Anders, Editorial Director
On the occasion of Karl Barth’s birthday falling this year on the day we traditionally commemorate as Ascension Day, it seems appropriate to share a small portion from his lectures on the Apostle’s Creed, which were published in 1959 in his Dogmatics in Outline. As I shared earlier (see “The Reason to Smile at Christmas—Musings on Luther, Barth, Foyle, and Longfellow”), Barth gave these lectures shortly after the end of World War Two to a somber assembly of theologians and seminary students in (as Barth writes in his foreword) the “semi-ruins of the once stately Kurfürsten Schloss in Bonn” (for the longer and more detailed version, see his fourteen-volume Church Dogmatics).
May you be blessed, encouraged, and challenged. As Barth says, “The Ascension is the beginning of this time of ours”!
“He Ascended Into Heaven, and Sitteth on the Right Hand of God the Father Almighty”
With the departure of Jesus Christ to the Father an establishment on earth is made. His departure means not only an end but also a beginning, even though not as the continuation of his advent. For it should not be said that the work of Jesus Christ simply continues in the life of Christians and the existence of the Church. . . . Christ founds His Church by going to the Father, by making Himself known to His Apostles. This knowledge means the call to “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” Christ is the Lord. That is what all creation, what all nations should know. The conclusion of Christ’s work is therefore not an opportunity given to the Apostles for idleness, but it is their being sent out into the world. Here there is no rest possible; here there is rather a running and racing; here is the start of the mission, the sending of the Church into the world and for the world.
This time which now breaks in, the time of the Church, is at the same time the end-time, the final-time, the time in which the existence or the meaning of the existence of the creaturely world reaches its goal. We heard, when we spoke of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection, that the battle was won, the clock had run down, but still God has patience. He has put the Church into the world, and the meaning of this last time is, that it is filled up by the message of the Gospel and that the world has this command, to listen to this message. . . .
It is the time which stands to Jesus Christ in the relationship of “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” He is most near. He wishes to enter; already quite near and yet outside, still before the door, and already we within may hear Him and be expectant of His entry. . . . The Ascension is the beginning of this time of ours.
In this year, we also commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Barth’s death (December 10, 1968). For a highly accessible overview of Barth’s life and work, I heartily encourage you to pick up a copy today of Karl Barth by David L. Mueller in Hendrickson’s Makers of the Modern Theological Mind series. In the meantime, Happy Ascension Day!
Patricia Anders is editorial director of Hendrickson Publishers. She also serves as the managing editor of Modern Reformation magazine and is the author of A Winter’s Blooming (HNN Press, 2012).
For more information about Karl Barth and the Makers of the Modern Theological Mind series, check out our website.