Ascension: Heaven to Earth Come Down And Earth To Heaven Gone Up

As I indicated in my last post, the Feast of Ascension is upon us. As a matter of fact it is, in the western church, going to be celebrated this Thursday. It, along with Pentecost, are favourite feasts of mine. The reason ascension of Christshould be clear in view of the name of this ministry – “Upward Call.” Our discipleship is call heavenward. It is a mysterious union of upward and downward not about geography. Up and down are not terms that speak of presence and absence but of relational reconciliation and consummation. It is the great commission issued to us by our Lord to become one with Him not only in death but in the fullness of His life in ascended (consummate) glory. And all of this as we live in the midst of a world that is passing away and giving way to this consummate life – “on earth as it is in heaven.” The upward movement — the movement of relational consummation — is implied in the resurrection of Christ Jesus. The Feast of Ascension makes explicit and fulfills the promise of our salvific journey as it moves toward fulfillment.  Here is a wonderful reflection on this theme by St. Maximus of Turin that was assigned to be read on the 5th Sunday of Easter (28 April 2013). I offer it for reflection now as a preparation for our celebration of the Ascension of Christ and of our own ascension in Him from one degree to another as we mature in Him. I have highlighted a portion for emphasis.

Christ is risen! He has burst open the gates of hell and let the dead go free; he has renewed the earth through the members of his Church now born again in Baptism, and has made it blossom afresh with men brought back to life. His Holy Spirit has unlocked the doors of heaven, which stand wide open to receive those who rise up from the earth. Because of Christ’s Resurrection the thief ascends to Paradise, the bodies of the blessed enter the holy city, and the dead are restored to the company of the living; there is an upward movement in the whole of creation, each element raising itself to something higher. We see the underworld restoring its victims to the upper regions, earth sending its buried dead to heaven, and heaven presenting the new arrivals to the Lord. In one and the same movement our Saviour’s Passion raises men from the depths, lifts them up from the earth, and sets them in the heights. Christ is risen! His rising brings life to the dead, forgiveness to sinners, and glory to the saints. And so David the prophet summons all creation to join in celebrating the Easter festival: Rejoice and be glad, he cries, on this day which the Lord has made. The light of Christ is an endless day that knows no night. Christ is this day, says the Apostle; such is the meaning of his words: Night is almost over; day is at hand. He tells us that night is almost over, not that it is about to fall. By this we are meant to understand that the coming of Christ’s light puts Satan’s darkness to flight, leaving no place for any shadow of sin. His everlasting radiance dispels the dark clouds of the past and checks the hidden growth of vice. The Son himself is the day to whom The Day, his Father, communicates the mystery of his Divinity. He it is who says through the mouth of Solomon, I have caused an unfailing light to rise in heaven. And as in heaven no night can follow day, so no sin can overshadow the justice of Christ. The celestial day is perpetually bright and shining with brilliant light; clouds can never darken its skies. In the same way, the light of Christ is eternally glowing with luminous radiance, and can never be extinguished by the darkness of sin. This is why John the Evangelist says: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never been able to overpower it. And so, my friends, each of us ought surely to rejoice on this holy day. Let no one, conscious of his sinfulness, withdraw from our common celebration, nor let anyone be kept away from our public prayer by the burden of guilt. Sinner one may indeed be, but no one must despair of pardon on this day which is so highly privileged; for if a thief could receive the grace of Paradise, how could a Christian be refused forgiveness? Source: St Maximus of Turin, Sermon 53, 1-2 (CCL 23:214-216); Word in Season III, 1st ed.

Onward and ever upward in Christ Jesus by the Holy Sprit while we reside right here with our feet solidly on the ground !! P.S. — For those who want to follow where the feast, in its profundity, will lead us in our discipleship: Why, in the icon of the Ascension, is the Theotokos in the center below the ascending Christ? Or, to put it another way, what does the feast of Ascension and Pentecost have in common with the Feast of the Annunciation and Nativity in terms of the Theotokos as an icon of the Church and the believer?! Fr. Thomas


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