Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Proper of the Day: The Ascension of Our Lord

Ascension Icon from Orthodox Wiki

Today is actually one of the seven Principle Feasts of our Church, which makes it rank as high or higher than Sundays. We celebrate one of the strangest mysteries of the Gospel, the truely bizarre claim that Jesus, after his resurrection, did not die a natural death again, because how could he? "Christ, being raised from the can never die again; death has no more dominion over him." It's reported in Mark and Luke that in the presence of his disciples, Jesus was somehow taken bodily from them into heaven and "now sits at the right hand of the Father."

This is an observance that has taken me a long time to live in to. I think it's becoming a favorite for two reasons. One, it's neglected by most Christians. Frankly, it's inconvenient enough at Easter to have all that "raising from the dead" language going on. But now we have to do this bit about him rising into heaven? I think it strains the incredulity of most people. The RCC transfers this feast to Sunday next, rather than observe it on its 40th day, which is today. Many denominations, even if they have it on their calendars, don't observe it. But I think it's telling that it is considered by Episcopalians as on par with Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. We're supposed to face up to the incredulity of it and talk and discuss and pray about it, and finally, celebrate it even if we don't undestand it. We'll do so at St. Thomas's tonight as 7:30 PM with Lessons, Carols, and Eucharist for the Ascension.

The second reason I like this feast is that it completes the Incarnation. Jesus, the Word, who was with God from the beginning, became a real human being to be with us for a short time in this world. Then, after rendering death meaningless, he took his humanity with him into the next world. He didn't leave it behind, but completed the joining of God and humanity in heaven. I finally realized this a few years ago when, at Seminary I believe, we sang hymn 215 "See the Conqueror mounts in triumph!" from the Hymnal. Verse three was what finally gave me a clue what the Ascension was really about:

Thou hast raised our human nature on the clouds to God's right hand;
There we sit in heavenly places, there with thee in glory stand;
Jesus reigns, adored by angels, Man with God is on the throne;
mighty Lord, in thine Ascension, we by faith beyond our own.

Sometimes - often! - those hymns say it far better than I can.

Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior 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 abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.



Doorman-Priest said...

What an absolutely wonderful icon. Since my Orthodox Easter experience, I am really getting into the symbolism of icons.

RFSJ said...

There was a class as seminary on icons, their creation, meaning, and everything. I know very little about them. Our church history prof taught us about the "iconclast" controversy that was resolved by the Second Council of Nicea in 787, defining the difference between proskynesis (venerationof an icon or the gospel book, for example) and latria, the absolute respect due to God alone.

I confess that I grew up having a very anti-image view of things, very anti-Catholic rather than anything else. I've grown a bit, I suppose. I have a few icons in my own home in my chapel, and although I don't accord them the power that many Orthodix do, I do find them very comforting and inspiring.