Fr. Gregory Hallam · May 28, 2012
In the Ascension our humanity is taken up in Christ’s to the heavenly places. He came to earth that we might be raised up to heaven
Most of our information concerning the Ascension of Our Lord comes from St. Luke’s account in the Acts of the Apostles, thus:
“...He went with His disciples to Bethany and stopped on the Mount of Olives. “While they beheld, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, ‘Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who is taken up from you into Heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into Heaven’” (Acts 1:9-11).
The disciples then returned to Jerusalem to where the Virgin Mary and the myrrh-bearing women were in prayer. In the Gospel of Mark it is written that upon ascending to heaven, the Lord sat upon the right side of God the Father, that is, the human soul and body of Jesus Christ took on the same glory as His Divinity.
Ascending to heaven, Jesus Christ promised to be always on earth among those who believe in Him.
Early Christian belief affirmed that the Risen Christ stopped appearing physically at the point of the Ascension which seems consistent with the idea that when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost there was no need for Christ to be physically present in a limited (that is, geographical) fashion since He now dwelt in the hearts and lives of the faithful by the indwelling Spirit. Christ in body and soul was now with the Father in heaven, seated at his right hand, a symbolic expression for sharing in the Father’s authority.
Later Christian reflection that had both the time and inspiration of the Holy Spirit to reflect further on the Ascension developed the doctrine in a most important manner by focussing on the humanity of Christ ascended as incorporating our own. Let’s listen to the great St. John Chrysostom…
That our flesh should be seated in the heavens and be worthy of worship by the Angels, Archangels, Seraphim and Cherubim is truly a great, astonishing and marvellous thing. On contemplating that, I am often struck with amazement, and I entertain exalted thoughts about mankind, for I see God’s great and abundant care for our existence.
This is by no means an isolated witness as these teachings will show…
O man, become a bit more sober; come to your senses. As a rational creature, recognize that God in the Highest has descended from Heaven for you, to raise you up from the earth and take you to Heaven.
– St. Ephraim of Syria
By ascending to Heaven before [the eyes of] his holy disciples, Christ also showed all believers the way. Christ the Head ascended unto Heaven; His holy members, the true Christians, will ascend as well. The path had been closed to men, but by Christ’s death, it was opened. In Christ’s death, “the veil of the temple was rent in twain” (Matthew 27: 51), and the path and entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven was opened to the faithful (Hebrews 10: 19-20).
– St. Tikhon of Zadonsk
So, in the Ascension our humanity is taken up in Christ’s to the heavenly places. He came to earth that we might be raised up to heaven. This is the language of theiosis, of worship, of transformative love, of our participation in the very divine life of the Blessed Trinity.
Our whole Christian life may therefore be seen as this Ascension. St. Gregory of Nyssa went further in the “Life of Moses” by emphasising that our ascent is infinite as God’s measure knows no bounds and our growth is, therefore, continuous… this side and the other side of death.
Sometimes people from other Christian traditions reject the Ascension or the life in heaven as either being the product of an early world view or an irrelevance ... after all who wants to wait around for all eternity ... even in ecstasy. Such comments can only arise from error or minds accustomed to dealing with spiritual truths in a most shallow and literal manner. The Ascension is a vital doctrine, (no, I should say “experience”), for Christians and our faith because it is God’s intended future for our humanity. We shall never cease to explore Life, the Universe and Everything because all these are in God and the more we share in Him the more we shall share in them.
“I came that they may have life,” Jesus said, “and have it abundantly,” (John 10:10).
THAT is what the Ascension is about… abundant life in God and our growth into that life. Our whole spiritual striving in God’s grace and power is directed toward that end… a new humanity in God. Christ is ascended and in Him, we shall ascend!