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A Neglected Feast

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Giotto, Ascension, Scrovegni Chapel, c.1305

Giotto, Ascension, Scrovegni Chapel, c.1305

In the spirit of “redeeming the time” and calling Christians back to their roots, both for spiritual renewal and the cultural renewal of the West, here are a few thoughts via the church fathers in regards to Ascension Day, considered to be a “Holy Day of Obligation” in the Roman church (i.e., mandatory), and also a “high” Feast or Festival day in the Anglican, Lutheran, and a smattering of other orthodox Western Christian traditions.  In fact, certain countries in Europe actually have today as a holiday, although most are ignorant as to its significance, meaning this is simply another day off.  This should NOT be the case! In fact, in many areas in the early church, Ascension Day had more significance than Christmas.  So what has the church always taught about this day, of which the primary text is Acts 1:1-11?:

Christ predicted His glorious ascension:

” ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but later on’ (John 16). This was undoubtedly because they were not yet able to understand, not yet able to imitate the mystery of his passion and death.  Yet they truly recognized the majesty of his ascension as soon as they saw it.” Bede, Homilies on the Gospels, 2.11

The same body in which He was incarnate, suffered, and resurrected, now is with the Father

“He suffered a true passion in the flesh, died His own true bodily death, rose again by a true resurrection of His flesh and the true resumption of His body by His soul.  He ate and drank in His risen flesh, and then ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  In the same flesh He will come to judge the living and the dead.” – Innocent III

Garofalo, Ascension

Garofalo, Ascension

Christ in his Resurrected body transcends time and space so that he is actually “more near now than when he was on Earth” (Luther):

“Do not think that because He is absent in the flesh He is therefore absent in the spirit; He is here in the midst of us, listening to what is said of Him, seeing our thoughts, searching our hearts and souls; He is ready even now to present all of you, as you come forward for Baptism in the Holy Spirit, to the Father.” – Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 14

Pentecost is coming (the “birthday of the church”):

“When He ascended up to heaven they questioned Him not in words but followed with their eyes…Their human affections were saddened by the loss of their visible object.  But he knew that is would be for their good because that inward sign that the Holy Spirit would use to console them was the better sight.”  Augustine, Tractates on John, 94.3-4

Christ now sits with the Messianic Kingdom starting to come to fruition, as is now the Advocate and High Priest, but also Judge:

“Sitting denotes either abiding, or royal or judiciary dignity.  Hence, to sit on the right hand of the Father is nothing else than to share in the glory of the Godhead with the Father, and to possess beatitude and judiciary power.” Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 3.

Other fathers such as Gregory the Great, John Chrysostom, Leo the Great, and many others, emphasize the fact that Christ took his humanity with Him, which gives us great hope as “co-heirs,” (Romans 8:17), meaning we also look forward to the “Resurrection of the body,” as said in the ecumenical creeds.  A Happy and Blessed Ascension Day to you all!

The Ascension, Dosso Dossi, early 1500's

The Ascension, Dosso Dossi, early 1500’s

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