Jesus said to his disciples, “See, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been 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 was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Today we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. The actual feast day was Thursday, but since we did not have a service then, we are celebrating it today. We are doing so because it is a pivotal part of Jesus’ ministry, and a principal feast in the Church. In our reading from the Gospel, we learned that Jesus tells his Apostles that the Holy Spirit will be given them, when he said, “I am sending upon you what my Father promised,” and that they would be clothed with power from on high. This is the prophecy of what happened on the day of Pentecost, which we will celebrate next Sunday.
You may remember my teaching on the marital relationship of Christ and the Church. After a man has become betrothed to his future bride, he returns home to prepare a place for her. The Ascension is Jesus’ return to his Father’s house. Before doing so, he led them out to Bethany, to the East of Jerusalem. Just as the Glory of the Lord left the temple toward the East, so the Lord Jesus goes to the Mount of Olives, where Bethany lies. Bethany was a place where many invalids lived, like Lazarus, and Simon the Leper. It is where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, and it is now known as The House of Lazarus, or Azariyeh is Hebrew. Jesus has led his disciples to a place where they would be needed the most.
To the Fathers of the Church, the Ascension is the climax of Redemption. Cyril of Jerusalem combined the historical and theological aspects of the ascension in a masterful way. He wrote, “In Bethlehem He descended from heaven; from the Mount of Olives He ascended into heaven. In Bethlehem He came to men to begin the work of Redemption; from the Mount of Olives He ascended to receive the crown for the work of Redemption.”
In the Old Testament, the Lord God descended into the temple, in to the Holy of Holies, and he ascended again leaving the temple when he became angry at the people. The Lord Jesus descended to dwell with man to begin the work of the redemption of mankind, and his ascension is the completion of that work. He did what he came to do. He became as one of us in the incarnation, and paid the price for our sins. Then he ascended to the Father, his work completed.
St John Chrysostom wrote that Jesus’ ascension was a movement of the flesh. He emphasized that Jesus took his human flesh, albeit glorified, back to the Father to be seated at his right hand. St. Augustine of Hippo wrote, “He left the world by a bodily withdrawal, He proceeded to the Father by His ascension as man, but He forsook not the world in the ruling activity of His presence.” He did not throw off his flesh, and ascend as a spirit, but he took his flesh, his human self, with him. We acknowledge this in the Nicene Creed; we believe in “the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.”
And that is not the end of the story, for it is still being written. As we say in the Nicene Creed, we believe that he will come again to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom shall have no end. So you see that he is not done with us. The groom is coming back for the bride. Jesus is the groom, and we the Church, are his bride. He will gather us to himself and take us home. We don’t know when that will be so we better be ready to go at any time. Are you ready to go?