Christ’s Ascension is therefore also our own, upon the glory of the Head rests the hope of the body. On this holy day, we have received not only the assurance of entering into possession of eternal glory, but we have already entered into the heights of heaven with Christ Jesus.
(Leo, Sermon 1 De Ascensione Domini c. iv)
This is the first Sunday after the Ascension. We find ourselves situated between our Lord’s Ascension back to the Father and the coming of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost or Whitsunday, which we celebrate next Sunday. Today we must meditate upon the Ascension and find in it a necessary devotion that prepares us for the promise of a new coming made to the Apostles in today’s Gospel. Ascension is that day on which the church celebrates the return of the Son of God to Our Heavenly Father. On Ascension Day our Lord’s earthly sojourn comes to a close. His earthly life and mission began when He was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. He lived, He taught, He healed, He was rejected, He suffered, He died, and He rose again from death. Nonetheless from the time of His Resurrection to His Ascension His human nature is transfigured. He is in possession of a spiritual body, transparent, obedient to the Spirit, unconstrained and lightsome, an apt and natural instrument for the salvation He now intends to foment in all others. (The Meaning of Man: Mouroux, p. 89)
Romano Guardini tells us that in Christ’s death on the cross, Jesus’ temporal life comes to an end, but not His life itself. He had been incorporated into terrestrial existence, submitting to its conditions, bound by its limitations. When He is in one place, he is not simultaneously elsewhere; what he does at one moment is not done also at another. Event follows event. (The Lord: R.G. p. 427) Easter’s Resurrection changes all of that. The concrete human is now joined to an indestructible essence. (Idem) Jesus is with His friends again but not subject to terrestrial power, the laws of government, or the laws of nature. He is here and there; He appears and disappears. He is unrecognizable and then recognized in an as earthly [and seemingly insignificant] gesture as the breaking bread. We feel in the lines how He pauses on the sill between eternity and time. (Idem) Christ is transfigured, and now temptation, evil, and corruption cannot touch Him. He is Risen Man. He moves at once in and out of events that are concurrent but isolated, united to all simultaneously in the event that He is.
Christ has been the victim of the best that sin in man can do, and now He has broken its chains, condemned its curse, and reversed the course of its rule in human life. Therefore, in His Ascension which we contemplate today, human mortality is redeemed. Christ has won the victory over sin, death, and Satan. Man’s end is found in His beginning, in the Father who is the source and origin of all truth, happiness, and joy. St. Peter says today that The end of all [other] things is at hand. (1 St. Peter iv. 7) In Jesus Christ, the power of human sin –the devil’s deceit, is overcome, subdued, and brought to an end. The desire to tamper with God’s eternal law for all creation (although never possible) is revealed to be futile, impotent, pointless, and ephemeral. In Jesus Christ, God has brought all sin to death. Satan flees and men’s hearts [should fail] them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven [are] shaken. (St. Luke xxi. 26) Now the relationship between the Apostles and their Lord must change. Now there is no excuse for disobedience to God. Now there is no justification for sin. God Himself has confronted and crucified sin in the human flesh of His own dear Son. Through that resolute and passionate determination to come closer than any man ever had or could to the corruption of sin, He has felt its power acutely, and because He is God in Man, has overcome it perfectly. In Jesus Christ alone, the eternal life, light, and love of God have endured sin and revealed it to be utterly absurd and unsatisfying. In Jesus Christ alone sin is brought into death, death is brought into death, and Satan becomes progressively ineffectual and insignificant in the lives of the faithful.
In His Resurrection, Christ’s soul took back His body, penetrated it through and through, and made it spiritual. Instead of the body of lowliness, Christ now has the body of glory. The body sacrificed is now the body glorified. (The Meaning of Man: Mouroux, p. 89) Now as Christ the God-Man ascends to sit down on His throne in the Heaven of His Father, He will begin to become the Word made flesh in all times and all places, in one heart here and simultaneously in another heart there. He sits in heaven and yet will come alive in the hearts and souls of those who fear and love Him. He is in eternity yet in time, though differently from before, in an intimacy of becoming. (Guardini, Idem) Christ desires to become the effectual and operative principle –the way, the truth, and the life, that carries all men to their Divinely intended destiny. And yet whether He is accepted as such or not, the Ascension establishes His role as Judge. His innocent human life alone has earned Him right to weigh and measure all other men’s lives in relation to the Word made flesh that He is. Jesus says: Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. (St. Matthew xii. 36, 37) Christ is God’s Word made flesh and for all flesh. From the seat of His ascended glory His Holy Spirit will reprove the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. (St. John xvi. 8,9,10)
Again, with St. Peter:
The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another without grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God…that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion forever and ever.
If we hope to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we must believe that our lives are now hidden with Christ in God. (Col. iii. 3) We must be vigilant and sober for [our]adversary the devil walketh about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. (1 St. Peter v. 8) The Ascended Christ sings to us: Lift up your hearts! Our chorus replies: We lift them up unto the Lord! He yearns to embrace us in the arms of His ascended love so that the contagion of His benevolence might grow into forgiveness that is neither resentfully nor reluctantly offered to others. He longs that His ascended truth might be articulated through us as the oracles that tell of His future coming and judgment. For if His Holy Spirit is to descend into our hearts and souls, we must be lifted up above all things earthly and mundane, seeking those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. (Col. iii. 3)
Ascension tide is all about worshipping and adoring the Saviour who invites us into intimate communion with Our Heavenly Father. Christ has completed His Father’s mission. And now a new relationship emerges between His friends –the Apostles, their successors, you and me, and our God. As Father George Body, sometime Canon Missioner of Durham, has said:
‘They worshipped Him,’ -His very withdrawal from among them, His very elevation to the throne of God, was the development of new relations between the disciples and their Lord. As long as He was on the earth the worship was not the principle feature of their life; but as soon as He was withdrawn from them and seated at God’s Right Hand in the heavenly places, the adoration of the Lamb -the worship of Jesus Incarnate, Crucified, Risen, Ascended, Enthroned, -the distinctive worship of the Christian Church, -began to be…where the Ascended Jesus is ever adored.
Ascension tide is the time of Adoration. In this time we worship and adore God’s own Son who has reconciled in Himself man to God and God to man. Today Christ tells us: When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of me: and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning. (St. John xv. 26, 27) So we must prepare our hearts for bearing witness to the glorious truth of Christ’s Ascension. From His seat on High He shall move us here below, that others may come to see and understand His triumphant victory over all that hinders us from communion with the Father. That others might also find in His Person their own redeemed humanity. O God, my heart is ready, my heart is ready; I will sing, and give praise with the best member that I have…I will give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises among the nations. For thy mercy is greater than the heavens; and thy truth reacheth unto the clouds. (Ps. xviii. 1-4) Man and God are united once again. Heaven itself is stirred by the irruption of the Ascended God-Man. Angelic worship and adoration is radically refined. The Ascended Christ takes His seat with the Father and a new light illuminates the intellects of angels and men, a new adoration fills their spirits, a new song bursts forth from their lips, a new worship is begun, the worship of Jesus Christ. (Body, Idem) God is gone up with a merry noise: and the Lord with the sound of the trump.O sing praises, sing praises unto our God: O sing praises, sing praises unto our King. (Ps. xlvii. 5,6)
Today we find ourselves in that space between Ascension’s glory and Pentecost’s calling. Let us end with the poet’s desire for both:
But since he
That brightness soil’d,
His garments be
All dark and spoil’d,
And here are left as nothing worth,
Till the Refiners fire breaks forth.
Then comes He!
Whose mighty light
Made his clothes be
Like Heav’n, all bright;
The Fuller, whose pure blood did flow
To make stain’d man more white then snow.
And none else can
Bring bone to bone
And rebuild man,
And by His all subduing might
Make clay ascend more quick then light.
(Ascension Hymn: Henry Vaughn)