Today we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension. Officially observed on the 40th day of the Easter season, for practical purposes we celebrate the feast on the 43rd day, as part of the Sunday Eucharist. The Ascension marks the end of Christ’s earthly ministry, after giving his disciples the Great Commission, and being taken up into heaven, sitting down at the right hand of God (Mark 16:19). The Ascension is a glorious mystery in which Jesus Christ took his perfect physical Resurrection body out of time and space, beyond the universe to reign at the right hand of God the Father in glory everlasting.
While the Apostles at the time saw Christ being lifted up on a cloud into the heavens, we can take heart in knowing that Christ did not ever leave us. For while Christ left the earth in his body (and only for a time, until He returns), he still remains with us. As the Apostle Paul writes of the Ascension in his letter to the Ephesians, God the Father “put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23). Christ’s Ascension is in fact his returning in body to sit as the head of his people, the Church. Because through faith we in the Church have union with Christ, we are united with him whether on earth or in heaven.
Indeed, the same love which drove God to send His only Son to take on flesh, motivated the Son to ascend into heaven, preparing a place for us that where he is, we may be also (John 14:3). And it is only through union with Christ by his love that we have hope to join Christ in heaven with our future Resurrection bodies. As Saint Augustine of Hippo said in his sermon on the Solemnity of the Ascension:
“Out of compassion for us he descended from heaven, and although he ascended alone, we also ascend, because we are in him by grace. Thus, no one but Christ descended and no one but Christ ascended; not because there is no distinction between the head and the body, but because the body as a unity cannot be separated from the head.”St. Augustine, Sermon on the Solemnity of the Ascension
In Christ’s love, we are always and forever united to him, and nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39). The Ascension reminds us of the ultimate power and authority of Christ over every earthly and cosmic power, and over every trial we face. The Ascension also reminds us of the dominion of the One whom we are called to obey, the One who gives us the Great Commission to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. But most reassuring, the Ascension reminds us that the Savior to whom we are united, the only one who can ascend into heaven, has gone forth to prepare a place for us, that we may one day dwell bodily with him forever.
I am, yours in Christ,
The Reverend Nathan Stomberg, Rector, Holy Communion Anglican Church
Image Credit: Saint James the Greater Catholic Church (Concord, North Carolina), Nheyob, Picasa, 8 March 2016