From the Gospel according to St. John (Chapter 16:7) we read: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate (Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” With these words, spoken to his disciples, Jesus foretells of two post resurrection events that they will eventually experience: his ascension into Heaven to be “exalted at the right of God”; and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The first of these events comes 40 days after Christ’s resurrection on Easter, and it is always a Thursday (indeed sometimes referred to as Holy Thursday); the second comes after 50 days; but both are celebrated on a Sunday. The Feast of the Ascension is one of the universally celebrated feasts of our faith, the others include Christmas, the Passion (Good Friday), Easter, and Pentecost. Observance of Ascension is thought to be apostolic; meaning it is traceable to the very beginnings of the Early Church. Additionally, it is part of the Paschal Mystery along with Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. By no means, therefore, an insignificant event in both the messianic mission of Christ and the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church. Yet in some ways it does not get the attention it deserves.
What exactly does Christ’s ascension into Heaven accomplish for us? There is, of course, the previously observed sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost; and with the Holy Spirit the imparting of spiritual power (Acts 1:8), and the bestowing of spiritual gifts (Ephesians 4:8). In addition, Christ has taken humanity into Heaven where it never was before, and consequently it is now possible for us to be glorified as well because as the author of Hebrew writes (Hebrew 6:20): “…where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered….” In Heaven Christ has also become our intercessor and advocate (1 John 2): “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” By his ascension Christ goes before us to prepare our heavenly home (John 14:3): “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” Finally, his ascension enables Christ to continue his power and dominion over all things, notably and in particular, the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church (Ephesians 1:22-23): “And he (God) has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body….” In other words, Christ is still present with and for us, as our “great high priest”. The Feast of the Ascension is our liturgy for commemorating this significant and Paschal Mystery moment in our Lord’s messianic mission, for which we are eternally grateful, in more ways than one. The Feast of the Ascension is indeed deserving of our genuine attention and appreciation.
A Sonnet for Ascension Day – Malcolm Guite
We saw his light break through the cloud of glory
Whilst we were rooted still in time and place
As earth became a part of Heaven’s story
And Heaven opened to his human face.
We saw him go and yet were not parted
He took us with him to the heart of things
The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and Heaven-centered now, and sings,
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we our selves become his cloud of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light
His light in us, and ours in him concealed,
Which all creation waits to see revealed.