The statement in the Creeds that Christ “ascended into heaven” is based mainly on Acts I : 1-9 where, after 40 days of appearances,
when the Risen Lord speaks to the Apostles about the coming of the Holy Ghost and the Church’s mission, and is taken up in a cloud.
For Christians, the Ascension marks the solemn close of the post-Resurrection appearances,
signifying the rule of Christ in the present
(in I Cor. 15:25 we read “For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet”.
And in Ps 110:1 we read “The Lord said to my lord, sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies they footstool.
So yes, Jesus is in the present even today.
How does all this work – to be so?
The following comes from a Sermon from St. Leo the Great and was written around one thousand five hundred years ago
(St. Leo the Great, also known as Pope Saint Leo I, was the first pope to be given the title “the Great.”He became a Deacon of the Church by 431 and died 461.)
and yet, it is still applicable to us today for instruction on just what the Ascension should mean to Christians today.
I: A foretaste of the early church’s beliefs and thoughts.
From St. Leo we read:
The Ascension of Christ completes our faith in Him, who was God as well as man.
The mystery of our salvation (which the Creator of the universe valued at the price of His blood)
has now been carried out under the conditions of humiliation – from the day of His bodily birth to the end of His Passion.
And although even in the form of a slave, many signs of Divinity have beamed out,
yet; the events of all that period, served particularly to, show the reality of His assumed Manhood.
But after the Passion, He showed by many clear proofs in the sight of many,
until He carried even into heaven, the triumphant victory which He had won over the dead.
As therefore at the Easter commemoration, the Lord’s Resurrection was the cause of our rejoicing;
so the subject of our present gladness is His Ascension
as we commemorate and duly venerate that day on which the Nature of our humanity in Christ, was raised above all the host of heaven,
over all the ranks of angels, beyond the height of all powers, to sit with God the Father.
But, even with His removal from men’s sight: faith did not fail, and hope did not waver, and His love for us did not grow cold.
For through the strength of minds, and the impact of a firmly-faithful soul, we now believe what is not viewed, via our own sight.
So, from whence should this Godliness spring up in our hearts, or how should a man be justified by faith,
if our salvation rested on those things only which lie before our eyes? …those things which we see with our own eyes?
To aid our understanding, our Lord said to him (Thomas), who seemed to doubt His Resurrection, until he had tested by sight and touch
the traces of Christ’s Passion, in His very Flesh,
“because you have seen Me, you have believed: blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed” John 20:29 .
II. The Ascension renders our faith more excellent and strong:
In order that we may be capable of this blessedness, when all things were fulfilled, which concerned the Gospel preaching,
and the mysteries of the New Testament.
Our Lord Jesus Christ on the fortieth day after the Resurrection,
in the presence of the disciples, was raised into heaven, and terminated His presence with us in the body,
in order to abide on the Father’s right hand until the times – Divinely – fore-ordained,
until he multiplying of the of the Church is accomplished.
When He will come to judge the living and the dead in the same flesh in which He ascended.
And so that, which till then had been visible – of our Redeemer,
was now changed into a sacramental presence ,
and that faith might be / more excellent and stronger /
as sight gave way to doctrine,
as the authority of which was to be accepted by believing hearts, was and is, enlightened by The Spirit’s rays from above.
Of which we will celebrate next week…
III. His Ascension refines our Faith AND the ministering of angels to Him shows the extent of His authority
After the Ascension, the Son’s equality with the Father remained the faith of believers,
which was called upon to touch not with the hand of flesh,
but with the spiritual understanding of the Only-begotten, of being equal with the Father.
Hence, comes that, which the Lord said after His Resurrection, as Mary Magdalene,
representing the Church,
hastened to approach and touch Him:
Touch Me not, for I have not yet ascended to My Father John 20:17:
that is to say:
I would not have you come to Me / as to a human body,
nor yet recognize Me / by fleshly perceptions:
for I put for you – higher things,
I prepare greater things for you:
when I have ascended to My Father,
then you shall handle Me more perfectly and truly,
for you shall grasp / what you can not touch
and believe / what you can not see.
Thus our faith was refined to this day!
And of the Angels:
When the disciples’ eyes followed the ascending Lord to heaven, with upward gaze of earnest wonder,
two angels stood by them in raiment shining with, wondrous brightness, who also said,
You men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing into heaven?
This Jesus Who was taken up from you into heaven shall so come as you saw Him going into heaven Acts 1:11.
By these words all the sons of the Church were taught to believe, that Jesus Christ will come visibly
in the same Flesh wherewith He ascended,
and not to doubt that all things are subjected to Him,
for whom the ministry of angels had waited from the first beginning of His Birth.
As an angel announced to the blessed Virgin, that Christ should be conceived by the Holy Ghost,
so the voice of heavenly beings / sang of His being born of the Virgin, as they sang to the shepherds.
And as messengers from above were the first to attest to His having risen from the dead,
so the service of angels was employed to foretell His coming again, in His very Flesh to judge the world,
that we might understand what great powers will come with Him as Judge,
when even such great ones, as the angel’s who ministered to Him – come in subjection of their Creator.
IV So what does this Ascension Season mean to us…
Well, the completion of Christ ministry on earth,
and next week we will celebrate the birthday of the Church as the Spirit will descend upon the Apostles
thus establishing them as the first Bishop’s –
the first overseers of Christ Church.
As Christ says (in Matthew 28:20) “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world”
What a marvelous time of thanks and of anticipation.
Thanks for what He has done, and…
Anticipation of what we can become
through the working of the Holy Spirit within lives.
Let each of us evaluate ourselves, and prepare ourselves,
for the coming of The spirit into our hearts and His Church.
Open your hearts this day to The Spirit,
And invite Him in and find comfort and peace within a loving God.
The hour cometh and now is….