Ascension of ur Lord – Are We Celebrating Jesus Leaving Us Behind?
+Fr. Basil Hickman, St. George - Des Moines, IA | May 27, 2020
How many people can say that the Ascension of our Lord is their favorite Feast Day? A list of such people would probably be quite small. After all, Ascension Day marks the end of our celebration of the Feast of Feasts – Pascha. We stop singing the joyful Paschal hymns in Church, we no longer greet one another with the words “Christ is Risen!” On top of it all, our focus on Christ’s Resurrection from the dead appears to be replaced with His leaving us behind. And yet, the Church calls this a Feast Day; so we may ask, “Why? What’s there to celebrate?”
It is true that since the Lord’s Ascension, He is not physically walking the earth in the same manner as before. With rare exceptions, we do not see His face with our bodily eyes or hear His voice with our bodily ears. At the same time, the Gospel of Matthew ends with Jesus saying, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) This, along with other Scripture passages, means that Christ has not left us behind. In fact, we are invited to experience Christ in our midst! Jesus also said that it was to our advantage that He depart (at least physically); because this would lead to Him sending us the Holy Spirit, who would guide us into all truth. (see John 16:7-15)
While this should bring us joy and comfort, we may still ask, “Okay, but why is Jesus’ Ascension an actual cause to celebrate?” Well, let’s think about Who ascended to Heaven. Jesus is fully God and fully Man. That means He ascended as God and One of us! The Orthodox Study Bible says it beautifully: “At the Incarnation, Christ brought His divine nature to human nature. In the mystery of the Ascension, Christ brings human nature to the divine Kingdom.” (see footnote for Luke 24:51) Through our separation from God, humanity had fallen into the pit of darkness and death. When Jesus joined divinity and humanity in His very Person, the God-Man entered into the pit – even dying – and rose as God and as Man. Then He ascended into Heaven as God and as Man, bringing our humanity with Him into the Kingdom!
Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:2-3) Jesus raised our humanity from the depths to the heights. Wow! That’s a cause for celebration!