Fr. Andreas Agathokleous
The feast of the Ascension seems not to present any particular interest, but rather a certain sadness in our hearts that the Lord is departing from us. Nevertheless, the following points emerge from the Gospels and from our lives as Christians:
1. Each of us, in the person of Christ as God and human, is in the Holy Trinity and, indeed, in a place of honor- on the right hand of the Father. This is an indication of the esteem and honor which surround each of us. Even if other people denigrate us, reject us or are hostile towards us, we have a God who loves us and accepts us as we are, raising us up to the glory of the Triune Divinity.
2. The Gospel (Luke 24, 52) tells us that when Christ was blessing his disciples, he began to depart from them and to ascend into heaven. They returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the temple, praising God. Christ’s departure from his disciples should have brought them sorrow, but instead they felt great joy. In the trials and woes of life, each of us, naturally, feels sad. But those who, through prayer, trust in God’s love and his providence, feel joy. For Christians, who see behind what is apparently true, the blessing which temptations bring- internal, mystical peace- is a reality.
The feast of the Ascension prepares us for the ‘great and last feast’, that of Pentecost. Christ said to his disciples: ‘But truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you’ (Jn. 16, 7).
As regards the salvation of the world, the mission of the Lord begins with the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the Mother of God, an event which brings joy to everyone, which is why it is called ‘the good announcement’. His task ends with the Ascension, which is the occasion for the descent of the Holy Spirit to bring joy to the disciples and, through them, to the whole world.
The reason for Christ’s presence in the world wasn’t to burden his supporters with laws, guilt or untenable commandments. He came to bring our lost joy, which sin, as ‘missing the mark’, had removed from our hearts. Now, joy, peace and repose are realities. But, for them to become ours, we have to want them. Ascetic effort, great or small, and the observation of Christ’s commandments, will demonstrate our willingness to accept the gifts of his sacrifice: his joy, peace and repose.
Every feast- particularly those of the Lord- has its own significance. The Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ reminds us that we’re not alone and helpless in the world and that the joy of Christ can fill our being, no matter what trials we have to bear. Is this not a blessing?