The Sunday after Ascension
excerpt fromCOMMON PRAYER: A Commentary on the Prayer Book Lectionary
Volume 3: Easter to Pentecost
St. Peter Publications
Inc. Charlottetown, PEI, CanadaReprinted with permission of the publisher.
This past Thursday we commemorated a most wonderful event -- Jesus Christ
ascending to heaven, bears on high the form of a man, united to the majesty
of God. It was not an illusion. “A spirit hath not flesh and blood as ye
see me have”, he assured his disciples. “Handle me and see.” (Luke 24.39)
He who was taken up into heaven was the same person who ate, drank, and
talked with his friends during the forty days after his resurrection. Here
was further incontestable proof that their Master was God, and because
he is God, we have hope of ourselves sharing the glory of God, when someday
we “thither ascend”.
“Lift up your heads, O ye gates,
and be lift up, ye everlasting doors;
and the King of glory shall come in.” (Ps. 24.7)
Thus Jesus ascended to “prepare a place for us” (John 14.2), but, more
immediately, he went in order to send the Holy Spirit so that we might
be prepared. He is the “Comforter”, who will guide us into all truth. He
is the One who strengthens in the midst of difficult situations. He is
the One who gives hope in seemingly hopeless circumstances of life. He
is the One who helps us to bear burdens too heavy to bear alone. And so,
while we journey here below, our hearts and minds “thither ascend” and
by faith dwell with him there. By faith we see him seated at the right
hand of the Father, ever interceding for us, ever comforting us with the
gift of his Holy Spirit.
O Christ, thou hast ascended
Triumphantly on high,
By cherub guards attended
And armies of the sky:
Let earth tell forth the story,—
Our very flesh and bone,
Emmanuel in glory,
Ascends his Father’s throne.
(The Book of Common Praise, Hymn 178)
This faith is the “evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11.1). St. Thomas
was praised because he had seen and believed, but more blessed, our Lord
said, is he who has not seen and yet believes (John 20.29). Blessed is
he who believes that our Lord has ascended and reigns with the Father.
Blessed is he who believes that the Holy Ghost is sent to comfort us and
to prepare us for the day when we too shall ascend and in heavenly places
live out eternity.
During this week, the Apostles continued in prayer and expectation of
this Unspeakable Gift of the Comforter, and so it is sometimes called “Expectation
Week”. The Old Testament lessons for today are from those prophets who
comforted the exiled Children of Israel with promises of future favour
from God; thus they carry in type the idea of expectation. The New Testament
lessons treat either of the events surrounding our Lord’s ascension, or,
in the case of those from Ephesians and Revelation, explore the implications
of the ascension. The Old Testament readings for the week are from Judges
and so present in type the strength and victory we have through our risen,
ascended, Lord. Those from Hebrews extol the efficacy of the sacrifice
of Jesus on the Cross, now that he has entered into the sanctuary “not
made with hands”.