5th May, 2005

Ascension Day

Sermon preached by Fr. Mark D. Stuart

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

When I was a youngster in Sunday School, somehow I remember that one of our projects was to put together a little cut-out Jesus on some clouds and attach Him to a popsicle stick; then on a blue sky background we pasted cotton balls as more clouds. At will we could make our Lord ascend to heaven over and over again as a circa 1950′s interactive version of the Ascension event.

That’s more than most people ever relate to the Ascension. It is not the best known of the feast days on the Christian calendar, and certainly not well-attended, if celebrated at all, in most Episcopal Parishes, but it is one that takes on increasing depth and importance the more you think about it and experience it. To Anglo-Catholics it has a special meaning and we remain a hold-out in recognizing the importance of this feast. Last year the St. Thomas pilgrimage was in London and we attended High Mass at All Saints, Margaret Street with an absolutely packed church!

The first thing to get clear about the Ascension is that it is about God. It is not about gravity, or magic tricks, or the location of heaven, or anything else of that matter. It is about God. Even though it comes toward the end of Eastertide, the Ascension is most closely related in meaning to Christmas. What I mean by that is at Christmas we celebrate the Incarnation: God becoming flesh and living as one of us. The Divine became human. What we can say today is that what was begun at Christmas is brought full circle, and proclaimed again in a different way at Ascension.

At the Incarnation (Christmas) what it means to be God became fully a part of what it means to be a human being. In Jesus the human and the Divine become united in the person and life of one man. At the Ascension this human being – the person and the resurrected body of Jesus – became for all eternity a part of who God is. In other words, the life of a specific human being is forever joined to the life of God the Father, the One Who created the heavens and the earth. Therefore, we Incarnational Anglo-Catholics value the theology so much which is intrinsic to the Ascension.

Even though there were just a few witnesses to the Ascension event, it had great implications for the future of the entire Church throughout all time. The great paradox of the Ascension is that by removing Himself from the world, Jesus would no longer be confined to a single place or a single moment, but He would be alive in the Spirit to all people for all time.

It is important to remember that it was not the spirit of Jesus, or the essence of Jesus, or the divine nature of Jesus, or the invisible part of Jesus, or the idea of Jesus that ascended to the Father. It was the resurrected body of Jesus: a body the disciples had touched; a body that eat and drank with them; a real physical, but gloriously restored body, bearing the marks of nails and a spear.

This is what ascended.

This is what, now and forever, is a living, participating part of God.

It is critical to our faith to think about what that says about being human. Sometimes we who are involved in the life of the Church are uncertain about the value of our humanity. We have a reputation (sometimes deserved) for being uncomfortable or even embarrassed about much that characterizes being human: like the realities of our bodies and the reality of being sensual, sensory beings; the fact that we are finite and limited; the fact of our mortality and certainty of our death; the painful difficulty we have in relationships; the struggles, joys, and setbacks that always seem to be part of our quest for God; and the power that our feelings and emotions sometimes have over us. All of these parts of being human, and so many others, we frequently treat as less than holy, as somehow divorced from our spiritual nature, and even sometimes as bad things that we should not have. (A number of heresies and false doctrines have grown from our discomfort with our humanity, so likewise denying that in an incarnate God.)

On the other hand, the Ascension, along with the Incarnation, is here to tell us that it is a good thing to be a human being; indeed it is a wonderful and an important and a holy thing to be a human being. In fact, it is such an important, good thing that God did it! This is not to say that everything about us as human is wonderful and full of light and perfection! But it is clear that to God we are very special beloved and worthy of being called into the fullness of holiness.

The Incarnation teaches us that is why we should treat ourselves and one another with care and respect. The Ascension, the fact that God has brought into Himself One Who is fully human, can remind us that simply being a human being is a sacred thing and that human life is a sacred thing, never to be taken lightly or abused. We are able to approach God, to reach out to God and look for the presence and will of God with confidence and with joy. For as we turn toward God, we are not only dealing with the creator of the universe and the ruler of all time and eternity; we are also drawing near to the one who lived our life and who has shared our fate.

We are coming near to one who knows us and who cares.

We are coming home.

Amen.

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