This past Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord. It is a Principal Feast in our calendar, which means it ranks right up there with Easter and Christmas Day. In fact there are seven Principal Feasts listed in our calendar. Can you name them?
The first is Easter day, then on the 40th day of Easter is the feast of the Ascension of Our Lord, always on a Thursday, but many of us transfer it to the following Sunday. Then the next Sunday is Pentecost, then the next Sunday is the Feast of the Trinity. The next one is about 5 months away, All Saints day on November 1. Then there is Christmas Day on December 25, and the Epiphany on January 6.
Ascension Day is always the 40th day of Eastertide, and on it we commemorate the day that Jesus “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father,” as we say in the Nicene Creed.
This sentence is derived from the Gospel according to St. Mark which tells of the resurrection appearances of Jesus in a very concise way. The very last two verses refer to the ascension, and what happened afterwards:
“After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.” (Mark 16:19,20)
Note that the Apostles did not go out alone, but that the Lord in the person of the Holy Spirit, the comforter, the strengthener, worked with them. We know this because of what St. John wrote in chapter 21 of his Gospel, where Jesus breathed on the apostles and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
The Gospel of Luke also records the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Ascension.
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.”
(Here is referring to the Holy Spirit.)
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.
In every case, the Ascension is combined with reference to the gift of the Holy Spirit.
St. John quotes Jesus as saying, “the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
And it just so happens that next Sunday is the next Principal Feast, the Day of Pentecost, which is the 50th day of Eastertide.
The Ascension is important for us because it opens for us the way to heaven. Jesus led the way after his resurrection, and if we follow, we too can ascend into heaven at the last day. Remember the words he spoke fairly often: “Follow me.”
St. Augustine proclaimed these words on the Feast: “Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him.”
Listen to the words of the Apostle: “If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth. For just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.”
In other words our spirits have an eternal residence in heaven with Jesus, and someday, our bodies will be in residence, as well.
In this time between Easter Day and now, we have heard of the appearances of the resurrected Lord in the flesh, and that he was taken up in his body into heaven.
The disciples had their doubts, just as we often do, but Jesus kept appearing and speaking to them to reassure them of his presence. Jesus told them, “I am with you always, to the end of time.”
The Apostle Paul wrote to the early Christians in Galatia: “No longer do I live but Christ lives in me and the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God.” (Galatians 2:19, 20)
This is a great reassurance for me, knowing that Christ lives in me, too, and that I now live by faith in the Son of God.
How about you? Do you know that Christ lives in you? What would it take for you to be assured of this? Would you need to see and touch Jesus, like St. Thomas, or would you believe simply because Jesus told you it was true?
If Christ does not live in your heart, would you like him to? It’s easy, really. Just ask him sincerely, and he will answer. Say these words, “Jesus, I believe that you are the son of God. I promise to follow you only. Fill my heart with your love.” Amen.
Then you should ask to be baptized, if you haven’t already received the sacrament of new birth in Christ. Jesus will hear you and will come to live in your heart. You may not feel any difference at first, things will begin to change as Jesus begins to take over your conscience. You will begin to be assured that you have eternal life, and that your Father in heaven loves you very much.
St. Leo the Great, a Doctor of the Church who died in AD 461, wrote this in a sermon:
For today not only are we confirmed as possessors of paradise, but have also in Christ penetrated the heights of heaven, and have gained still greater things through Christ’s unspeakable grace … For us, the Son of God has made members of Himself and placed at the right hand of the Father, with Whom He lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.
St. Leo is saying, by his ascension, Jesus has taken us with him, and we are possessors of paradise, and that by extension, we are seated beside the Father, in spirit.
It is a wonderful thing to possess paradise, and if I dwell on that, I become more assured of that truth.
Let the Ascension of Christ raise you, also, to the heights of paradise, and know that your spirit is seated next to the Father for ever and ever. Amen.