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? Glory be … Hearken unto my voice …
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: saith the Lord Almighty. (Ezekiel 36.22-27)
Alleluia. 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. 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)
“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.”
This day was anciently known as “Expectation Sunday.” After Our Lord’s Ascension, the Apostles return to the Upper Room to pray and wait. But what are they waiting for; what are they to expect? And you and I: what are we expecting? This is liturgical “waiting time” for an event that we know we will celebrate next week, with its dramatic notes of rushing winds, tongues of fire, and speaking in many languages. But this waiting time should not be wasted like waiting in a doctor’s office, twiddling our thumbs or reading celebrity gossip magazines, because …
“The end of all things is at hand,” says St Peter in today’s Epistle. It all sounds very apocalyptic, so why are we reading it today, rather than, say, for Christ the King or during Advent? The Ascension and the Session of Christ are two of the major creedal doctrines of the Christian Faith, yet are often passed over virtually without notice, and so we may forget their meaning, and their connection to His Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection. “The end of all things” means not so much the end of the world as the end (i.e., the goal, the reason) for which the world was made—the world’s arriving at its intended purpose. The Greek word is τέλος (telos). Christ has redeemed us from sin and death, and is now taken up into glory and seated at the Father’s right hand. Our hope is now sure and certain in Him. All that remains is for Him to manifest His triumph universally, and set all wrongs to right. And through the Spirit’s witness that end, that realised hope, is at hand, pervading and transforming our lives in this world, and filling us with expectancy and zeal.
It is only when the Spirit descends upon the Apostles that the Church is enlivened, that they fully understand who Jesus is, what His Passion and Death truly mean, what His Resurrection and Ascension mean, and finally what their mission is. And this is the telos of the Holy Spirit in the Church: to answer in a definitive and salvific sense the question that lies at the heart of the Gospels: who is Jesus? We see this clearly yet through a partially desilvered mirror in the debates about the Person of Jesus in the Œcumenical Councils of the Church and what comes through these messy experiences: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, through whom all things were made, who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven.” That witness has been made possible by the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church, deepening our understanding of the meaning of the Life, Teachings, Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ, and what it all means for us.
Today 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), has now left this world and returned to the throne of God. The Ascension was not an afterthought—some neat way to tie up loose ends and remove Jesus from the picture; nor was it an invention of the early Christians to obviate Christ’s physical absence; rather, it is an integral part of the redemption story. Just as Mary’s womb was opened that Christ might be born, just as 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 is in no sense a reversal of the Incarnation. Quite the contrary! It is its culmination—its telos, its end or intended purpose. The essential and foundational truth of human life is to be found in God. By assuming our humanity, Jesus did not change human nature into something else; He perfected it. His redemptive work has reconciled us to God, and His Ascension marks His returning to the Father, after having accomplished God’s will for the world. While conforming our behaviour to the example of Jesus will, of course, necessarily follow, the endgame is our participation in the very life of the Holy Trinity. That is the telos, that is our destiny and our common vocation. This “end,” then, is the purpose of our very being.
This is the total inverse of all the anxiety and fear-mongering 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 fear and sense of hopelessness and futility. Ascensiontide 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. Even as Christ 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—His Church.
Our Lord’s Ascension brings about an ascension in us. In Baptism, our souls and bodies were united to Christ by the Holy Spirit. But that union is strengthened and becomes fruitful only as we turn to Him with a living faith. His grace lifts our thoughts and our hearts to eternal things like wisdom, righteousness, holiness, and love. So, because we are joined mystically to Christ, because of our love for Him, our ascension is the most natural thing possible—it requires an intentional act on our part in order for it not to happen.
St Augustine, in his Confessions, writes:
A body inclines by its own weight towards the place that is fitting for it. Weight does not always tend towards the lowest place, but the one which suits it best, for though a stone falls, a flame rises. If oil is poured into water it rises to the surface, but it water is poured onto oil it sinks below the oil … In my case, love is the weight by which I act … I am drawn by love. By your Gift [i.e., the Holy Spirit], we are set aflame and borne aloft … It is your fire, your good fire, that sets us aflame and carries us upward. [Bk. xiii, 9]
The love of God within us through the Holy Spirit makes us ascend. We need simply to allow ourselves to be captured and lifted by that holy flame, like an eagle carried on an updraught, as we pray in today’s Collect: “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.” But the truth is, we often are actively fighting against love’s impulses to move us to higher ends.
“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 and courage to bear witness to 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 in every nation and culture right down to our own time. But the presence of the Holy Spirit prevails even against those who would destroy the Church, for one cannot fail if one is true to the One who said: “Behold, I have overcome the world.”
“Be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer,” says St Peter in the Epistle. It is in prayer that we ascend to God. Sin affects our ability to pray. Being serious about our prayer life, being sober-minded, means being serious about following Jesus in all things, leading us into the true joy of God. A serious spiritual life is a life of underlying joy. 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 His Kingdom. We must, however, offer those wounds to the healing power of His grace. 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, His saving work is complete, and then can the Holy and Life-giving Spirit of Truth descend upon us to effect that salvation in our hearts and lives.
St Peter goes on to say, “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” Just as the love of God covers our sins, we are to cover the sins of others with love. This is an important, yet difficult, part of the Gospel call: to forgive others, allowing God’s love, grace, and mercy to flow through us. Think again of that image of the eagle, soaring on the air currents. It does not create the wind, but it does have to work with the wind, and direct its wings accordingly. Likewise, we cannot create that love, but we co-operate with the love, grace, and mercy of God. When we are filled with the Love of God, with His Holy Spirit, then can we love and forgive others, even as God has loved and forgiven us. Finally, Peter says, “As each hath received a gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” When we are filled with the love of God, when we co-operate with the motions of His Holy Spirit, we use our God-given gifts for the glory of God and the betterment of one another, and in so doing we begin our ascension “unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before.” Our lives become a witness to our risen and ascended Lord, and draw others to follow Him as well.
“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 fulness 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—waiting in prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit, for the very life-creating Breath of God within and among us in all His power and glory.
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 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; and the gravity of sin, anxiety, or the problems of life need burden us no longer than it takes to breathe a prayer. Our daily struggles, great and small, are important to the God who loves us, and so 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).
What we are waiting for is not the coming of some mythical kingdom. We await something that is already supremely and absolutely real: the presence of God among us in all His power and truth, making all things real: and that is surely something worth waiting for. It was expectation of that promise which moved the disciples with one accord to prayer and supplication in the nine days between Our Lord’s Ascension and Pentecost. The Ascension of Jesus into heaven signals the completion of all His work on earth, and the beginning of the lifting up of His people heavenward in the power of the Holy Spirit.
“And ye also shall bear witness.” The mission of the Church is not to fix the world and all 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, which is our telos—our intended goal. 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.
“That God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”
! مسیح برخاسته است
Tha Crìosd air èiridh!
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 world; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
May 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:
And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.