On the Ascension

On the Ascension

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Jesus’s Rising in Glory and How We Can Keep Christ Present in Our Lives Today

Today marks an end, and a beginning, in the life of the Orthodox Church. Today marks the end of the luminous 40-day Paschal season, during which we endlessly rejoiced at the Resurrection of Jesus, greeting each other with the festal cry of “Christ is Risen!” (Response: “Truly He is Risen!”). Today is also the beginning of a new spiritual reality in the Church, an event just as cosmos-shattering as the Lord’s Resurrection, which completes the Father’s plan of our salvation and reconciliation to Him—Jesus’s glorious bodily Ascension to His Father in Heaven. The Gospel accounts for this Feast are in St. Luke 24:50-51 and St. Mark 16:19.

This ‘end’ is the beginning of an entirely new stage of God’s relationship with mankind. The Ascension is the fulfillment or completion of the process of His Resurrection, which began on Holy Saturday when Christ destroyed the power of Satan in Hades and was first fully revealed on Paschal Sunday (Easter) when He was shown to have risen from His tomb. During the 40 days between His bodily Resurrection and His bodily Ascension, Jesus took great care to show Himself, first, to His Apostles, then to the multitude of the people. He let them see His wounds, that He was again alive, and believe more fully in Him.

Showing Himself to Jews and Gentiles alike, everything Jesus did in His life, death, resurrection, and in the time He was on earth leading up to His Ascension was a perfect ‘type’, or mystagogical fulfillment, of the Old Testament. Just as man became alienated from God through the temptation of Eve, the wood of the tree of knowledge, and the miserable toil and death of Adam after the Fall, in Christ, man is reconciled to God through Jesus’s birth to the only sinless woman, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, and the death of the Lord on the wood of the Cross in His harrowing passion and kenotic suffering for us all.

In accordance with Jewish law, 40 days after His birth, Jesus was presented in the Temple of Jerusalem by His mother and her spouse. And so 40 days after His Resurrection to life on earth, the Lord then ascended to His heavenly temple. As one of my friends Wesley Giesbrecht notes, the Ascension marks the fulfillment of the Lord’s Resurrection and the entire revelation of the Old Testament because, in this moment, “Jesus, as the Great High Priest and Lamb of God, ascend[s] into the Heavenly Holy of Holies on a cloud to present His blood at the heavenly altar for the cleansing of all sins.”

As our redeemer whose death atoned for all the sins of the world and reconciled us to God, with His bodily Ascension, Jesus thus fulfilled and completed the ancient Jewish temple rites observed on their annual Day of Atonement, which saw the high priest of the Levites in the Jerusalem Temple go into the Holy of Holies to offer to God the expiating blood of the spotless lamb that had been sacrificed for Israel’s redemption.

Far from being a passive conclusion of the process of the Lord’s Resurrection, and our hope for our own resurrection, the Ascension is truly the climax, revealing the Father’s final stage in His elevation of the nature of mankind, the plan for our salvation and ultimate reconciliation and union with the Father. This plan began with the Annunciation, was made manifest at the Incarnation, was accomplished with the Passion and Crucifixion, and then gloriously revealed with the Lord’s Resurrection. Just as we have, from Jesus’s bodily resurrection, firm hope for our own, so too do we believe that, as the Lord ascended to the Father in heaven, so we hope to as well!

While this is a joyous feast, sometimes people express feelings of sadness that the radiant joys of Pascha are over for this year. Since we do not celebrate Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, for another 10 days, this period in which Jesus has ascended to Heaven but the Paraclete has not yet come down to us can sometimes seem a sort of “in between” period, even, some might fear, a time apart from God. The truth is that nothing could be further from the reality of what is happening in these blessed days!

What do these themes of resurrection and ascension mean biblically, and what do they mean for us in our own lives?

Living the Glorious Reality of the Ascension in Our Own Lives

What does this time now mean for us, when the Lord is no longer physically present on the earth in the same way as he was prior to His Ascension? How can we make Christ present in our lives when, in some ways, with His Ascension, He might feel physically removed or far from us?

Here are some practical ways we can continue to keep Christ at the center of our lives, with all the distractions of our plugged-in, fast-paced world today:

  • Begin your days with Him—even if your mornings are always hectic, get up just five or ten minutes earlier to spend some time before your icons praying quietly, whether using set prayers or spontaneous ones.
  • On your morning commute, listen to an audio of the daily prescribed Gospel reading. Pray one of the Psalms as you drive or as the train moves. If you can spend a morning commute focusing on God and emptying your mind of certain stresses, you will find greater peacefulness throughout the day.
  • Remain active in going to Church services, especially the Divine Liturgy. While the Lord has ascended to Heaven, He continues to make Himself fully present to us in Holy Communion, His real Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Many people who were very active in church throughout Great Lent and Holy Week sometimes ‘drop off’ after Pascha, spiritually sort of ‘burnt out.’ Don’t fall into this pattern! The Ascension is a joyous occasion which we should celebrate, if we can get to the liturgy, by being in Church!
  • Let all that you do, in words, actions, and speech, proclaim the joyful message of the Lord’s Ascension, and what we believe this means about the raising up of human nature in the sight of God, and the promise of our own bodily resurrection and ascension to Heaven.
  • Make time each day for prayerful silence, and keeping to, or setting up, a simple, doable prayer rule of set morning and/or evening prayers.
  • Try to practice and live the spirit of Christian forgiveness every day, repenting and reconciling yourself to those who you have wronged or forgiving those who wronged you.
  • Make a daily effort to practice the Lenten virtues of increased prayerful devotion, spiritual watchfulness, avoiding gossip, and abstaining from unkind words and impure thoughts.

Christ is always in our midst. Rejoice!

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About author
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Ryan Hunter

Ryan Hunter, OCN Intern is an Orthodox Christian writer, blogger and graduate student from Setauket, New York. After growing up in Virginia and on Long Island, Ryan spent four years living and working in Washington, D.C., from 2009-2013 and holds a BA in European History (2016) from Stony Brook University. The author of over 60 published articles and a forthcoming book about his journey to the Orthodox faith, Why Orthodoxy (Pokrov Publications), Ryan was received into the Orthodox Church in 2011 in Washington, D.C. He has written widely on Church history, political philosophy and theory, Classical and Late Antiquity Roman and Byzantine political and religious history and early modern Britain, France and Russia. Ryan’s hobbies include freelance journalistic work, running, hiking and what he calls “very amateur” photography.