This Thursday is Ascension Day, which occurs 40 days after Easter. Only Luke, in both his gospel and in Acts, tells about the Ascension. (Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:6-11). For tonight, please read and meditate on the longer passage from Acts.
For me, Ascension Day is the most neglected of all Feast Days on the Church’s calendar. The Ascension is arguably the most important of all holy days (even more than Christmas and Easter) because it demonstrates our chief end and final destination (our teleology) of being transformed into God’s likeness (Gen. 1:26), to become like him (1 John 3:2), and to partake of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). For just as Christ ascends to be with the Father, so to must we ascend in our spiritual journey to be with God as well. The technical theological term is theosis. As St. Athanasius (296-373) writes: the Word “assumed our humanity so that we might become God.” (On the Incarnation, para.54). This transformation begins at the Incarnation and ends with the Ascension. The Ascension is the final chapter, not only in Jesus’ earthly journey, but our spiritual journey. As the Collect for The Ascension says:
Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe your
only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended
into heaven, so we may also in heart and mind there ascend,
and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1979 BCP 226 (emphasis added)
Jesus says: “I am the Way.” (John 14:6). Similar to following someone on a path, we follow Christ in his way. First, we follow Jesus to the Cross. (Mark 8:34). We are called to crucify the things of the world – the works of the flesh, the passions, and the ego. (Gal. 5:24). We are called to crucify the things of this world and to have them die on the cross. (Rom. 6:6). It is the way of purgation. If we think of the Christian life as a journey, the Cross is where we leave the non-essential items behind.
The Cross isn’t the end of the story. As Paul tells us, when we die in Christ we are raised with him. (Rom. 6:4). This raising is not a future event at the end of the age, but a present reality in the life of a Christian. When we crucify the things of this world, we inherit a new life. (2 Cor. 5:17). Our new life is not based upon the transitory things of this world, where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal, but a life which is eternal because it is founded upon that which is eternal. (1 John 5:20). Like the brightness of Christ’s appearance to Paul, or the brightness of the angels at the empty tomb, in the Resurrection do we come to share in the illumination of God’s presence within us.
The Resurrection isn’t the end of the story either. Jesus didn’t stay here in this world, rather he returned to the Father. (Acts 7:55). To follow Jesus as the Way is to follow him home. (John 14:3). Paul writes: “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. . . . When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” (Col 3:1,4). The promise that we have been given is that the one who has begun a good work in us will bring it to completion. (Phil. 1:6). For just as the Father is one with the Son, so too are to become united with them. (John 17:20). Our spiritual journey doesn’t end at the Cross, or the Empty Tomb, or in Galilee or the upper room in Jerusalem. Rather it ends with our spiritual ascension in heart and mind to be joined with and partakers of the Divine. This is what we celebrate on Thursday.
He said (in Ps. 82:6) that we were “gods” and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creatures, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to Him perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p.174