Today is the Feast of the Ascension, and this Feast begs the question: What is this whole ascending from the Mount of olives all about? Why didn’t Jesus just “POOF” disappear and go to the Father’s side? Why all this theatrics?
It is almost axiomatic that any truth or tradition sufficiently removed from its Source or Cause tends toward superstition and nostalgia. And given enough time and thoughtlessness, it can even become the exact opposite of its original intent. This is proven true time and time again across all cultures, tribes, and languages. It’s just the common challenge of all people.
And when this sad state of affairs is allowed to continue unchecked and uncorrected, the group gripped by such an impoverished understanding always (and I mean “always”) diminishes to the point of both irrelevance and eventual disappearance.
This eventuality is only defeated and overcome by the hard work of thoughtfulness and purposefulness. A dear friend recently said “When you forget your ‘Why’ you lose your ‘Way.'” To combat this loss, you and I must practice diligence and attention. So that our precious Orthodox faith doesn’t get reduced in our lives or the lives of our children to this counterfeit religion of nostalgia and superstition. You and I must be Orthodox on Purpose.
In today’s Gospel Lesson we ready of the Lord’s Ascension into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. Look at Luke 24:36-53:
At that time, Jesus, having risen from the dead, stood in the midst of his disciples and said to them, “Peace to you.” But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.
Then he said to them, “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled. Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.
In this passage the Lord affirms His physical resurrection (“Have you anything here to eat?”); He “opened their minds to understand the scriptures” (By the way, it’s useless to wish you could have been there to hear that Bible Study! YOU DO every time you read the Epistles, the Fathers, or witness the Liturgy. The Apostles preserved His teachings in His Church!); and told them to wait in Jerusalem until they received the power to carry out His command to witness to the World in verse 49.
Then the Lord led His disciples to the place of the Ascension and, as He was blessing them (He still is!) He ascended into the sky!
Please notice the significance of this Feast in two very important revelations: He ascended physically and He ascended slowly.
Physically to leave the world with such a visual icon of the value, beauty, and dignity of the human body that we would never mistake it for a mere “shell” or “prison of the flesh.” Jesus took His physical, human, although glorified, Body into the mid-most mystery of the Trinity – We have a Man in heaven! And that means that since we, in the Church are called the Body of Christ, we, too, will have our bodies glorified and transfigured by our intimate communion with Him Who is Glorified and Transfigured. Jesus ascended, not for Himself, but to show us our destiny in Him!
Slowly, so He could make an open spectacle of His victory over mortality and that serpent “the prince of the power of the air.” (Ephesians 2:2) Just as the priest processes the Body and Blood of Christ through the people in the Great Entrance, so our Lord “processed” His Body through the sky to inaugurate the sharing of His life to the whole world! Victory over our last enemy, death, is both accomplished and celebrated!
Today, will you join me in beating back the shallow sickness of forgetting and thoughtless repetition that leads to a counterfeit of the original beauty? Will you hold these truths as vibrant revelations meant to actually change your behavior, your choices, and your very life? And will you allow this gift of transformation to invite all around you to join you in this glorious journey toward the full, mature, and well-rounded faith our precious Orthodoxy has always been to those who dare to embrace it!?! Good!
Blessed Feast of the Ascension to you! He is Ascended! Into Heaven!
P.S. The Feast of the Ascension invites us to look ahead to Pentecost and this Sunday we will talk about just why the Holy Spirit came in the first place: to empower us to fulfill the Lord’s command that we be witnesses to Him! This Sunday we’re going to talk about Outreach – Orthodox style! And we will have a very special announcement about an outreach tool for your parish. Listen this Sunday at 8 PM Eastern on ancientfaith.com.