Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Ascensiontide —a precious season of 10 days before Pentecost

Heaven was reconstituted by the Arrival there of the Lord Jesus

The Antiphon for Ascension Day in the medieval Church of England was addressed to the exalted Lord Jesus and (in traditional English) reads:

O Lord of hosts, the King of glory, who today didst ascend in triumph far above all heavens, do not leave us as orphans, but send upon us the promise of the Father, even the Spirit of Truth."

It was sung before and after the Psalm of the Day. Here there is a combination of themes from Psalm 24 and John 14-16.

To create a Collect for the Sunday following Ascension Day (because the Latin one from the medieval Church made no reference to the Ascension), Archbishop Cranmer took this Antiphon and made it into a Collect, but he composed it so that it is addressed to the Father not to the exalted Son.

O God the King of glory, who hast exalted thine only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph into thy kingdom in heaven; we beseech thee, leave us not comfortless; but send to us thine Holy Ghost to comfort us, and exalt us unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen .

We recall that Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday – not merely a spiritual resurrection but a truly bodily resurrection, which was very much more than bodily resuscitation. His resurrected body was an immortalized, glorified body, a human body wonderfully perfected.

For Forty Days on various occasions and places he appeared in this amazing body to his apostles and disciples until his last appearance recorded in Acts 1, which also became his marvelous Ascension into heaven.

For ten days afterwards the apostles and disciples waited for the Gift promised by the Lord Jesus – the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost/Spirit, coming from the Father in the Name of the Lord Jesus, bearing his gifts and virtues for his Church. So fifty days from Easter Day, at the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, and called Whit-Sunday by the western Church, the awaiting disciples received the Gift from above, the descent of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2). And from this day the message of salvation in and by Christ was proclaimed first in Jerusalem and then throughout the surrounding world.

Returning to the Ascension, by this glorious Event the resurrected Jesus was exalted by the Father to his right hand on high and crowned as the Lord of lords and King of kings—as Psalm 24 sings and prophesies.

It is most important to affirm that in this Ascension and Exaltation, the Lord Jesus did not lose or shed his human nature and body. He entered heaven—the sphere where the angels and archangels worshiped the Holy Trinity—with his full humanity, now in an immortalized and glorified form, yet real humanity still. And heaven was transformed by his arrival and session at the Father's right hand. For now, as belonging fully and uniquely to the Second Person of the Trinity, human nature (humanity) was in heaven and the Lord Jesus, as the One Person made known in two natures (divine and human) became the One Mediator between God and man. Within the Triune Life of the Holy Trinity there was and there remains glorified human nature! An amazing thought and truth, with most holy and saving consequences for human beings, not least the possibility of the beatific vision of beholding the glory of the Father in the face of Jesus Christ.

Previously the angelic hosts and choirs alone praised and magnified the Holy Trinity with their, "Holy, Holy, Holy," but now joined to them was the human voice of the exalted Jesus—High Priest, Son of God, Lord and Mediator. And through, in, by, and with this same Jesus there arrived in heaven also, from now onwards, a constant procession of redeemed and sanctified human beings, first the saints from the Israel of the Old Covenant and then the martyrs and saints of the Church of the New Covenant. So now in heaven the heavenly choir has both angelic and human voices and all joyfully sing in the Name of Jesus to the one glory of the one God, who is the Blessed, Holy and Undivided Trinity.

Let us rejoice and be exceedingly glad that Heaven was eternally changed, was marvelously developed and expanded, through the Arrival and Coronation of Jesus, Messiah, Savior and Lord at his Exaltation. It is now the most holy sphere and place whose entry is "through Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life" and in this place "there are many mansions" for the multitude of redeemed human beings.

So we ask: Why, O Why is the Festival of the Ascension so neglected today? It is the Festival without which the other Festivals cannot fulfill their meaning and purpose. For unless the Lord Jesus is exalted into heaven, his work is incomplete and thus there is no salvation, redemption, divinization and beatification for the human sinners whom he came to save.

Jesus is risen from the dead. Alleluia.
Jesus is exalted to the Father's right hand. Alleluia.
Jesus has transformed ands remade heaven. Alleluia.
The Father sends the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, in Jesus' Name. Alleluia.
Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead at the end of the age. Alleluia.

-- The Revd Dr Peter Toon, M.A. M.Th. D.Phil

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