Ascension of our Lord

“Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and be lifted up, ye ancient doors, and the King of glory shall enter in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts – he is the King of glory!”

These verses from Psalm 23 were seen by some of the Church fathers as a prophetic indication of the mystery which we celebrate today: that 40 days after his Resurrection from the dead, the Lord ascended into heaven with his risen and glorified body and sat on the right hand of his Father in heavens, placing our human nature, his own flesh which was born on earth, crucified and risen, in glory, majesty, and honour, because he who took that flesh was not a man but God’s only Son, his Wisdom and his Word.

Another prophetic verse from Isaiah is also regarded as a foreshadowing of this mystery: “Who is he that comes from Edom, with his garment red from Bosor, thus fair in apparel, mighty in strength?” (63:1). He is the Lord, mighty in strength, the Lord of heaven and earth – but why are his garments red? Because he goes up into heaven with the flesh bearing marks of his Passion, his crucifixion, with the sacrifice of his own blood, which he shed for our sake to reconcile us to God. And thus this mystery which unfolded before the eyes of the disciples, has unfolded for our sake – for our sake the Lord took flesh, for our sake he was crucified, for our sake he died, for our sake he descended into hell, accepting our abandonment, loneliness, isolation from God. But descending into hell, he broke it apart, and rising from the dead, he set us free, and for our sake he now places our nature, transformed and resurrected, in God’s glory, in eternity – and thus he places us in heaven.

And so, on this day, when we no longer shall see our beloved Lord in the flesh, on earth, we rejoice. The disciples returned from Mount of Olives with great joy and in the troparion for Ascension we sing that Christ ascended in glory and granted joy to his disciples. Why? Should we not be sad when we part from someone whom we owe everything, whom we try to love with all our heart? But we rejoice, because by raising our nature, the Lord shows us that our citizenship is in heaven – and we rejoice because after our Lord’s ascension we as the Church are ever in expectation of him coming again in glory on the last Day, because we know that our Lord will return in the same way in which he departed. And we also rejoice in another expectation: of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the Spirit who by his descent made the disciples, disoriented and amazed, into the Church of God ready to bear witness to the Gospel toward the ends of the universe; because we pray that we also may be given such assurance and strength to carry the witness of the Gospel every day of our life.

And so we rejoice in this expectation – but also we rejoice, for the Lord who during his life on earth was present just to a small group of his disciples, by ascending into the heaven, into eternity, into the place of God, he is present everywhere where His true Church is assembled, wherever we who believe in his Gospel, are gathered. For if we truly believe in him, the Spirit of God is with us, and if so, the Lord is here, in our midst, in this church, seeking to enter our life, under the roof of the hearts of every one of us. And when we are gathered here as the Church, as his body, we partake of the body which was crucified for us, rose, and ascended in glory – we partake not just of food and drink, but we eat and drink our salvation, the eternal life which enters our mortal bodies in order to raise our hearts to heaven.

And thus when we reflect on the awesome mystery of our Lord’s ascension today, let us praise and give thanks to the Word of Life, the Lamb slain for our sake, the Light who illumines our path to heaven, let us rejoice, and let us strive to live like Christians, who were set free by the Lord, and not slaves of our thoughts, passions, and lusts. For the Lord, our crucified King, ascended the Cross to buy our freedom and ascends to his Father today to make us all heirs of the kingdom. This is the King of glory, this is our King, this is our Lord – let us worship him, for to him belongs all glory, honor, and majesty forever, Amen.

~ Dr Vitaly Permiakov, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary

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