SUNDAY AFTER THE ASCENSION – Exaudi
Introit: (Psalm 27) Hearken unto my voice, O Lord, when I cry unto thee, alleluia: unto thee my heart hath said, Thy face have I sought, thy face, Lord, will I seek: O hide not thou thy face from me, alleluia, alleluia.
Ps. The Lord is my light, and my salvation: whom then shall I fear?
Collect: O God, the King of glory, who hast exalted thine only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph unto thy kingdom in heaven: we beseech thee, leave us not comfortless; but send to us thine Holy Ghost to comfort us, and exalt us unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before; who with thee, in the unity of the same Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth God, throughout all ages world without end. Amen.
[And for the Octave of the Ascension]
Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that as we believe thy only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell; who liveth and reigneth world without end. Amen.
OT Lesson: Thus saith the Lord God; I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy Name’s sake, which ye have profaned among the nations, whither ye went. And I will sanctify my great Name, which was profaned among the nations, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the Gentiles shall know that I am the Lord, saith the Lord God, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgements, and do them. (Ezekiel 36.22-27)
Alleluia. (Ps. 47) The Lord reigneth over the heathen: God sitteth upon his holy throne. Alleluia.
Epistle: Dearly beloved: The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another without grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (I Peter 4.7-11)
Alleluia. (John 14) I will not leave you comfortless: I go away and come again unto you, and your heart shall rejoice. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: Jesus said unto his disciples: When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning. These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them. (St John 15.26-16.4)
But [Jesus], after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God... For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us. (Hebrews 10.12, 14)
“The end of all things is at hand,” says St Peter in today’s Epistle. What does he mean? It all sounds very apocalyptic, so why are we reading it today? On this Sunday after Ascension Day, we celebrate the sitting [formally known as the “Session”] of Christ at the right hand of the Father. The accomplishment of Our Lord’s earthly mission was signalled on the Cross: “It is finished” (from the same root word), Our Lord cried out—i.e., His work of reconciliation between humanity and God is finished, and His victory over sin and death will issue forth in the new life of the Resurrection. So then, what of today’s observances? The Ascension and the Session of Christ are two of the major creedal doctrines of the Christian Faith, yet are often passed over without notice, or somehow explained away. We forget their meaning, and their connection to Christ’s Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection. One clever wag has suggested that we suffer from ‘Ascension Deficit Disorder.’
Still, “He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father,” we confess every time we recite any of the three ecumenical creeds, which means that we assert these statements to be true—indeed, that they are “Articles of the Faith,” and necessary for salvation. And that means that there must be something about the Ascension and Session that matters to each and every disciple of Jesus Christ who follows His Way, His Truth, and His Life; and not just on the fortieth day following Easter Sunday, either.
Here we come full circle to the very beginning of John’s Gospel. The pre-existent Son, sent from heaven to dwell among us and bring us light and life (John 1.1-18), was, on the eve of His crucifixion, preparing to leave this world and return to the Father. The Ascension was not an afterthought; it was (and is) an integral part of the redemption story. Just as Mary’s womb was opened that Christ might be born, and the tomb was opened that He might be raised from the dead, so now the portals of the Kingdom of heaven open, that He might return to the Father. But this return of the One sent is in no sense a reversal of the Incarnation. Quite the contrary! Even as He bore our sins to the cross, so now He bears our humanity, wounds and all, to the Father. And we, still awaiting His return, bear some part of His divine Spirit. And why does that matter? Because His work on earth is not done, in the sense that He continues that work through us.
“And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.” But then comes a solemn warning: “Yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.” The promise of the Holy Spirit is also the promise of the strength to bear witness to the Person of Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life. But this witness will provoke persecution, and history records this persecution not only in the early Church, but throughout the ages, in every nation and culture down to our own time. There are those today, even within the Church, who seek accommodation and compromise with a world that is inexorably opposed to the truth of the Person of Jesus Christ. This is not only shameful, but it is doomed to failure, for it denies who Christ truly is. But the presence of the Holy Spirit prevails even against those who would corrupt and falsify the Church, for one cannot fail if one is true to Him Who said: “I have overcome the world.”
“The end of all things is at hand.” The Greek word τέλος (telos) does mean “end,” but also carries the sense of “goal,” or “purpose.” The Ascension is Christ’s returning to the Father, having accomplished God’s will for the world. Christ’s redemptive work reconciles us to God. The essential and foundational truth of human life is found in God. This “end,” then, is the purpose of our very being. This is the total inverse of the fearfulness of our world today, which senses an end of the world in environmental or socio-political terms, but neglects or ignores the deeper ethical and spiritual dimension of ending which gives purpose to it all. This spiritual sense of telos is comforting and life-giving, in contrast to the world’s crippling fears and sense of hopelessness and futility. This day celebrates our humanity’s being gathered by God, to God—Alpha and Omega, the Beginning as well asthe Ending of all things. Our end is our perfection, which is found only in God.
The risen Christ ascended in His wounded body. Those wounds do not mar or compromise His divinity. Indeed, it was through those wounds that He conquered death and even now manifests Himself as Lord and Saviour of the world—“Rich wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified,” as hymn-writer Matthew Bridges so charmingly puts it. We must never lose sight of what it cost God to redeem us, or of our continuing need for His mercy. But neither do our wounds, no matter what they are, shut us out of the Kingdom of God. We must, however, offer those wounds to the healing light of His grace. This requires that we learn to see what those wounds reveal about our lives, our relationships, and our world, no matter how difficult and painful that may be. But by offering even our darkest struggles to Christ, we will ascend with Him in His healing of our humanity. Our Lord’s Ascension foreshadows the creation of a new heaven and a new earth, unstained by sin and its dark shadow of death. When the glorified body of Christ, bearing His wounds, ascends into heaven, then can the Holy and Life-giving Spirit of Truth descend upon us. “Be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.”
“And I will sanctify my great Name, which was profaned among the nations … and the Gentiles shall know that I am the Lord, saith the Lord God, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes.” The same is true of our common life in the Church. We can provide no credible witness to our neighbours if we do not visibly manifest a life that stands in stark contrast to the corrupt ways of a world enslaved to the fear of death. If we do not display Christian virtues in our own lives each day, then we are very poor witnesses to the fullness of the Christian Faith. The more we live out our calling in pursuing such a life, the more integrity and credibility we will have in inviting friends, neighbours, and strangers to join us, “that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” The world already has enough religious organizations that do little more than help people feel better about themselves or attempt to resolve the world’s latest issue. We must be something very different. The generosity and witness prescribed by St Peter are only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. We ought not to be surprised by our failures, but they only serve to remind us of our continual need for and dependence upon God’s grace. “Be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.” And so these nine days between Ascension and Pentecost are especially dedicated to prayer—the original novena—of waiting in prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit. But we do not await the coming of some magic mythical kingdom. What we await is already supremely and absolutely real: the presence of God among us in all His power and glory. The experiences of our lives in all their complexity and confusion are not without meaning, provided they are gathered into the purposes of God in Christ.
Today, whether you are joyful, fearful, frustrated, sad or disheartened, remember that you are connected to the living Christ, directly, through the Holy Spirit in the Church, because of His Ascension and Session at the right hand of the Father. The gravity of sin, anxiety, or the problems of life need burden us no longer than it takes to breathe a prayer. Christ sits “at the right hand of the Father” having accomplished all that He was sent to do, and now “ever liveth to make intercession for [us].” (Hebrews 7.25, Romans 8.34)
Contrary to what many people think, the mission of the Church is not to fix the world and its problems. It is not to distract us for a couple of hours each week or to work us up into an emotional high that helps us feel better about ourselves. The Church is to be a brilliant icon—a window into heaven—an image of what happens when this world and its inhabitants, with all their wounds, enter into heavenly glory. Anything less is a failure to be the Body of Christ, manifesting in our common life the communion of love shared in the Holy Trinity. So let us all offer every aspect of our lives to Christ Who has ascended in glory so that we might reach our true end, and by grace participate fully in the joy that He shares eternally with His Father and the Holy Spirit.
“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgements, and do them.”
Christ is risen!
Collect: O Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Saviour Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abideth with his Church on earth, even unto the end of the ages; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
“The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13.20-21)”