First part of Sermon XLII. for Ascension Day.
And He led them out as far as to Bethany, and He lifted up His hands,
and blessed them. And it came to pass, while He blessed them, He was parted
from them, and carried up into heaven. —ST. LUKE
xxiv. 50, 51.
THE Scripture appointed for the Epistle to-day, and likewise the Gospel,
consist of the narrative of our Lord’s ascent into Heaven. And this
is well for that event itself suggests all doctrine and all reflection
connected with it. The ordering of His Church, and the fact of His
Ascension, contain everything.
The first of these accounts is taken from the beginning of the Acts
of the Apostles, where St. Luke, alluding to the Gospel which he himself
had written, says, The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of
all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was
taken up, after that He through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto
the Apostles whom He had chosen. That is, of all our Lord’s miracles
and precepts, while “anointed with the Holy Ghost,” He “cast out devils
by the Spirit of God,” until the day of His Ascension, when, having breathed
on the Apostles and conferred on them the Holy Ghost for the fulfilment
of their mission, He left His Church to their charge.
To whom also He shewed Himself alive after His Passion by many infallible
proofs; by appearing in the midst of them through closed doors; by
making them to feel His wounded Body; by eating with them; by conversing;
by much familiar intercourse; being seen of them forty days, and speaking
of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. During the space
of forty days while He continued on earth, not as before, always visible
with them, but at intervals appearing, He so habituated them by degrees
to endure His bodily absence, and to know His spiritual presence; making
these various manifestations of Himself from time to time, and discoursing
with them concerning the regulation of His Church on earth, which He usually
designated as “the Kingdom of Heaven,” or “the Kingdom of God.” Thus
they conversed with Him; even as Moses conversed with God for forty days
in the mount, receiving the laws of His Church, and saw Him “face to face,”
unconsumed in the mild majesty of the Incarnate Son.
And being assembled together with them, He commanded them that they
should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father,
which, saith He, ye have heard of Me. For after His Resurrection,
our Lord had sent His disciples to their own quiet home and country in
Galilee, where He would manifest Himself to them in the scenes of His former
intercourse with them. But now, at the end of forty days, He had
summoned them again to Jerusalem and appeared amongst them there; that
the Holy City might be the place not only of His mission, His Crucifixion,
and Resurrection, but also of His Ascension, and the descent of the Spirit,
and the first seat of His Church and being evidently about to leave them,
He commissioned them to continue in the Holy City until Pentecost.
For John truly, He added, baptized with water; but ye shall he baptized
with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. Ye have been baptized with
the Baptism of John; but John himself spake to you of another entrance
into My kingdom, a Baptism “with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” He
says, “not many days hence,” not mentioning the exact time, but leaving
it uncertain, as He always does “the times” and “the seasons,” to preserve
the temper of watchfulness and prayer. [St. Chrys.
When they therefore were come together, they asked of Him, saying,
Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?
The disciples were filled with the expectation that Israel was to be
restored; so that the two walking in sadness to Emmaus expressed their
disappointment by saying, “We trusted that it had been Ho Which should
have redeemed Israel.” Being therefore now appointed to meet at Jerusalem,
they understood not how the Israel of God was a spiritual kingdom, now
indeed to be established in grace and in suffering—the unseen kingdom of
the Spirit—but hereafter, when Christ shall return, in glory. They
saw not as yet, as St. John afterwards describes, “the holy city, new Jerusalem,”
descending “from God out of Heaven.” Our Lord, therefore, gives them
no direct answer respecting the restoration of this temporal Israel, whether
it was to be or not, but teaches them to wait upon God for all these things,
to be fulfilled in His own good time.
And He said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the
seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power; for of the day
and the hour knoweth no man, nor angel, nor the Church of God, but the
Father only. But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost
is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me, both in Jerusalem,
and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
“Ye shall receive” not honour, nor station, nor ease, nor riches, as in
a kingdom; but “ye shall receive power “—power to be witnesses and suffering
martyrs for the Name of Christ; and first of all, in the great city itself
of persecution, stained with the blood of the Prophets and of Christ.
And when He had spoken these things, while they beheld, He was taken
up; while their eyes were fixed upon Him there on the Mount of Olives,
to which they had walked, in the act of lifting up His hands and blessing
them, as by some unseen power He was gradually borne aloof from the earth.
And a cloud received Him out of their sight. Their eyes still
followed Him upward as He arose, till an intervening cloud—perhaps it might
be of descending angels—hid Him from their view; but they still gazed and
gazed upward, as loath to lose that sight. And while they looked
steadfastly, or intensely, toward heaven, as He went up, behold, two men
stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why
stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, Which is taken up
from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him
go into heaven. “In like manner,” with the same visible manifestation,
the same glory and majesty, or rather, more particularly with the same
human body, as man. “He shall come,” says St. Augustin, “in like
manner as He went; that is, in the form of man, in which He was judged,
shall He come to judge.” “In like manner,” i. e. “with a body,” says
St. Chrysostom, “but with glory far greater.” [Act. Ap. ad
loc.] With the same Body indeed as bearing His wounds, for
they who pierced Him shall see Him; the consolation inexpressible of His
friends, the confusion unspeakable of His enemies. He shall return,
“this same Jesus,” said the Angels, bearing the same saving Name; the same
Jesus that taught, and healed, and gave you His laws, is He Who shall return
as Judge. Again, He departed in “a cloud” that received Him out of
their sight, and in clouds He shall return; and angels and men shall witness
His coming as now His going.
(for the second part of this sermon,
on the Gospel.)