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Vol I No. 1
Anglican Communion

Ascension

by William J. Martin

It seems rather odd that no sooner have the Apostles been warned against gazing into the starry heaven in pursuit of Jesus’ Ascended nature than their Elizabethan successors have taken to exhorting us to do precisely that. The Angels of the Lord –two men standing by the Apostles in white apparel rebuke the Apostles. Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. (Acts i. 11) The Elizabethan prayer reads thus: GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that like as we do believe thy only begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell. (Ascension Day Collect)

Of course, literalists will maintain that the Collect speaks to our eventual future state in Heavenly Bliss. Allegorists encourage that we should commence an activity of inward and spiritual ascent now so that we might be rewarded then. Both interpretations are true. We pray for our eventual and final ascent to God the Father in the future. We cannot hope for it unless we begin the process spiritually here and now. The beginning of the Ascension process ought to begin literally here and now so that we might reap our spiritual reward and benefit later. St. Luke’s record of the rebuke really has more to do with the inward and spiritual disposition of the Apostles. They are being encouraged to ascend inwardly and spiritually, qualitatively up and into the superior dimension of obedience to the Father that Christ intends to secure in them through the indwelling Spirit. Therefore, the two verses need not be at odds with each other.

Ascension ought to characterize our daily disposition towards God the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit. Of course, we do not literally rise up above as in some kind paranormal out of body suspension over ourselves. What is above us physically is below others, depending upon where you are on the earth at any given time. Rising is a movement into what is qualitatively superior and prior by reason of the Divine nature and will. We rise or ascend into the unchangeably perfect relationship of the Son to the Father. It is a relation of subordination. In Christ, as sons in the Son, we surrender ourselves to the Father’s will and way, longing to articulate and communicate His presence and power in the world. As sons in the Son, we are nothing unless and until we are being informed and defined by the Father’s redemptive will. As sons in the Son, we cannot rise and ascend until we have died in the Son’s Death and come alive in the Son’s Resurrection. Each moment involves an Ascent –up and into death, up and into resurrection, and up and into ascension. It is all spiritual. Because it is spiritual it will be literal also. The spiritual nature of it all ensures that we shall literally ascend into salvation.