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 these 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.
Look at our lesson today in 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” and told them to wait in Jerusalem until they received the power to carry out His command to witness to the World.
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, as we celebrate this glorious Feast of the Lord, let’s do the hard work of holding to this powerful icon of the Lord’s physical Body ascending to the right hand of the Father. Being Orthodox on Purpose means we don’t hide from this amazing miracle the Lord does for our benefit to remind us who we really are and who we are meant to be!
P.S. Dear Lord, Today we hear the Church sing “O Christ our God, upon fulfilling Your dispensation for our sake, You ascended in Glory, uniting the earthly with the heavenly. You were never separate but remained inseparable, and cried out to those who love You, “I am with you and no one is against you.” Please help me enter into this liturgical rhythm of living every day so that I won’t go to sleep to Your ultimate purpose for my life! Amen