Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,
No sooner had he said this than he was lifted up before their eyes in a cloud which took him from their sight.
My friends, our two readings this day are both by the same author, St. Luke. In our Gospel reading, we have a rather terse description of the ascension of our Lord. Here, St. Luke places all of his emphasis on the fact that Jesus first blessed the disciples and then he was taken from their sight. We have a more elaborate description of the Ascension of our Lord in the Acts of the Apostles - more elaborate and much more symbolic because this is how the Ascension must be understood: very symbolic language used by the author in order to describe the indescribable mystery of Jesus' Ascension. In St. John's Gospel, Jesus glorified at the time of his resurrection. St. Luke spreads it out a little - forty days - for Jesus to complete his mission in the world. Then, after a number of days, Jesus was no longer with them in the flesh.
The symbolic language? Jesus was taken up before his disciples into a cloud. The cloud was always used in the Scriptures as a symbol of God's presence. Witness the cloud that led the people of Israel in their wanderings in the desert for forty(!) years.
They were also confronted with two men dressed in white who stood beside them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "Why do you stand here looking up to the skies? This Jesus who has been taken from you will return just as you saw him going into the heavens." Remember at the time of Jesus' resurrection there were two men dressed in white. As the women stood gazing into the empty tomb, they said, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen." And now they are telling the disciples, "Don't stand there gawking into the heavens. Lower your eyes and look now at the present! Don't look into the past. What is past is past. You have a mission to fulfill."
That mission that they had to fulfill was to preach the Gospel to all creatures and to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; to teach all that Jesus had commanded them to teach. Now, in order for them to do this, they were not to rely upon their own ingenuity or upon their own talents. "Wait," Jesus said, "In Jerusalem, until you receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit". What Jesus is about to do in the world through his Mystical Body, the Church, must be done by the power of the Holy Spirit and not by the ingenuity of man. We know what will happen to any church that relies solely on the ingenuity of men. We do not need to point very far to have sorry examples of this throughout all of history, down through our present time. When people abandon the power of the Holy Spirit and try to do things on their own, that's when they get into trouble.
Jesus would establish his Church, as it was born from his side on Calvary, in power through the Holy Spirit. In the letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul, reflecting upon the Ascension of the Lord, gives us a deeper and more theological understanding of what we are about this evening. In the first chapter of Ephesians beginning at the seventeenth verse, this is what he writes:
"May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, grant you a spirit of wisdom and insight to know him clearly. May he enlighten your inmost vision that you may know the great hope to which He has called you, the wealth of his glorious heritage, to be distributed among the members of the Church and the immeasurable scope of his power in us who believe. It is like the strength he showed in raising Christ from the dead and seating him at his right hand in heaven, high above every principality, power, virtue and domination and every name that can be given in this age or in the age to come. He has put all things under Christ's feet and has made him thus exalted Head of the Church which is his Body, the fullness of him who fills the universe in all its parts."
Today we celebrate the fact that Jesus was taken up into heaven. But more importantly, we celebrate the fact that Jesus is, as we say in the Creed, “now seated at the right hand of the Father”. He has the place of honor and he is there in his humanity as well as in his divinity. In his humanity he has the ear of his Father to make intercession for us. "...we have an Advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins." And he is given THE NAME; the Name that is above every other name, given by his Father. That Name is Lord. He is Lord! And it is from this time on that his disciples would speak of Jesus as the Lord.
You and I acknowledge Jesus, I pray God, as Lord of our own lives as well. If we celebrate this Feast of the Ascension, we celebrate the fact that Jesus is constituted now as Lord. It means that you and I would surrender all that we have, and all that we are and all that we would ever hope to be to his sovereignty, to his lordship. That is what the Ascension is truly about.
We do not stand gazing up into heaven. No, we look about us and we see that there is work to be done. As members of his Body, with Jesus as Head and Lord of that Body, we carry out his work now emboldened by the Holy Spirit. This is a beautiful feast we celebrate this day, but let it not pass us by with just a thought that Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father and it has nothing to do with us. It has everything to do with us if we really understand our role now. We worship Jesus as Lord and, as members of his Mystical Body, we are committed to do the Lord's work in the power of the Holy Spirit.
1 Hail the day that sees him rise, Alleluia!
to his throne beyond the skies. Alleluia!
Christ, the Lamb for sinners given, Alleluia!
enters now the highest heaven. Alleluia!
2 There for him high triumph waits; Alleluia!
lift your heads, eternal gates. Alleluia!
He has conquered death and sin; Alleluia!
take the King of glory in. Alleluia!
3 Highest heaven its Lord receives; Alleluia!
yet he loves the earth he leaves. Alleluia!
Though returning to his throne, Alleluia!
still he calls us all his own. Alleluia!
4 Still for us he intercedes; Alleluia!
his atoning death he pleads, Alleluia!
near himself prepares our place, Alleluia!
he the firstfruits of our race. Alleluia!
5 There we shall with you remain, Alleluia!
partners of your endless reign, Alleluia!
see you with unclouded view, Alleluia!
find our heaven of heavens in you. Alleluia!
Psalter Hymnal, 1987
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Bendigo in the Central Goldfields