The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord

May God bless you with His peace and joy on this Feast Day of the Ascension.

AscensionI mentioned in the sermon at the Liturgy last evening, that Christ’s Ascension bodily into heaven is both a sign of and fulfillment of God’s reconciliation with humanity. After the disobedient sin of Eve and Adam in Paradise, humanity fell from God’s grace, and lost the unity with God which He bestowed upon humankind from the beginning. We fell from God’s presence and no longer walked with Him, nor He with us in the world which was Paradise and our intended home. The bodily ascension of Christ signals the undoing of all the consequences of the Fall, for once again humanity in its wholeness (body, soul, spirit) is in God’s presence.

You might remember the lesson in the Gospels (Matthew 9, Mark 2, Luke 5) in which Jesus rhetorically asks, “Which is easier to say to a paralytic, ‘your sins are forgiven’ or ‘rise, take up your bed and walk’?” The obvious answer is to tell someone their sins are forgiven is far easier as how could you prove it one way or another? The Lord then gave those folk something to think about when he commanded the paralytic to walk and the paralytic did as he was told! Jesus shows his commands have power and His forgiving us our sins are not empty words.

We can gratefully listen to the Gospels and hope they are correct when they talk about God forgiving human sin and restoring humanity to God’s favor. But when Christ ascends bodily to heaven, we are given something to think about – the reconciliation with God and our bodily union with God is demonstrated before our eyes in and through Jesus Christ our Lord. Christ is not merely the harbinger of the coming Kingdom of God, He bodily enters into God’s presence and restores what Adam and Eve had and lost. But further, His entry into the Kingdom of God is not for Himself alone, but is for all of us, just as His bodily resurrection is but the first fruit of what all of God’s people are to experience.

The Feast of the Ascension is a joyous affirmation that God does intend to bring us back into His eternal presence, despite our sins. What Eve and Adam had in the beginning – living in God’s presence and abiding in God’s Paradise – is being given to us again. The physics and metaphysics of how this works is never explained in the Bible, rather it is simply offered as what was and what will be.

The hymns of the Feast also mention the Apostle’s as well as all of our ambivalence toward the event. For though Christ’s mystical and bodily reunion with God the Father is good news (Gospel!) for all of humanity, it also leaves us believers still here on earth, still having to take up the cross daily, and still awaiting the much anticipated second and glorious coming of Christ and final establishment of God’s Kingdom: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever.” (Rev 11:15)

The hymns of the Feast also mention that the Apostles were disappointed both by Christ’s departure and by the fact that His ascension did not mean the immediate end of this world and instantaneous appearance of the eschatological Kingdom of Heaven. They were however given joy by the promise of the Holy Spirit, which they and we would receive on Pentecost, 10 days after the ascension.

The joy of the Holy Spirit is real. But the Holy Spirit comes upon us to give us all we need to live the Gospel life IN THIS WORLD. The Holy Spirit does not come to take us out of this world and all of this world’s sin, sighing, suffering and sorrow. The Holy Spirit rather is given to each believer to enable us to live in this world and to empower us to support, love, forgive, encourage, help, and teach one another. The Spirit is given to the community of believers to build up the community, and to unite each of us to Christ and one another. The Spirit comes upon us when we gather in the Liturgy and makes it possible for both the bread of the offering and our community to become the Body of Christ. But all of this happens in this world and as long as this world continues to exist. We each are given grace by God, the Holy Spirit as gift (in Chrismation), and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so that we can help each other continue to live in this world and to bear the cross and to witness to the eternal joys of the kingdom to a world which is so often seduced by and enticing us with the fleeting pleasures of this world.

I pray that God will bless you by and through the Feast of the Ascension. May He prepare you for and enliven you with the coming of the Holy Spirit.

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