Thursday, May 17, 2012

Christ Ascends to Heaven in His Glorified Human Body

Alleluia, Christ the Lord, who hath ascended
into heaven,
O come, let us worship, alleluia.

And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.  (Acts 1:10-11)

Jesus With the Apostles after the Resurrection
Today officially marks the end of Easter Season.  It has now been 40 days since Easter, which commemorated the resurrection of our Lord and his victory over sin and death and the opening of the gates of heaven to all mankind.  Our Lord spent 40 days on earth with his disciples after his resurrection, teaching and admonishing them, and leaving no doubt in their minds that he had truly risen body and soul from the grave.  It took some time for all the disciples to come to truly believe that our Lord, who had died so brutal a death on the cross, had risen from the dead.  But Christ's 40 days on earth after his resurrection was not just for the disciples' benefit at that time, but for all who followed them down through the ages right up to our time. 

The Traditional Breviary has a reading today from St. Gregory the Pope in which he tells us that we have more to learn from the Apostle Thomas, who refused to believe Christ had risen, than from Mary Magdalene, who believed immediately.

Thomas inspecting the
Risen Christ's wounds
I may be allowed to say that the disciples' slowness to believe that the Lord had indeed risen from the dead, was not so much their weakness as our strength. In consequence of their doubts, the fact of the Resurrection was demonstrated by many infallible proofs. These proofs we read and acknowledge. What then assureth our faith, if not their doubt? For my part, I put my trust in Thomas, who doubted long, much more than in Mary Magdalene, who believed at once. Through his doubting, he came actually to handle the holes of the Wounds, and thereby closed up any wound of doubt in our hearts.

To confirm to our minds the trustworthiness of the fact that our Lord did indeed rise again from the dead, it is well for us to remark one of the statements of Luke : Eating together with them, he commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem : and a little afterward : While they beheld, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight. Consider these words, note well these mysteries. After eating together with them, he was taken up. He ate and ascended : that the fact of his eating might shew the reality of the Body in which he went up [a spirit cannot eat.  But the fact that Christ ate proved that he was not a spirit but a risen human being]. But Mark telleth us that before the Lord ascended into heaven he upbraided his disciples with their unbelief and hardness of heart [even after being with the Risen Lord for 40 days, the apostles were still struggling to believe]. From this I know not what we should gather, but that the Lord then upbraided his disciples, from whom he was about to be parted in the body, to the end that the words which he spake unto them as he left them might be the deeper imprinted on their hearts.

When, then, he had rebuked the hardness of their hearts, what command did he give them? Let us hear. Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. Was the Holy Gospel, then, my brethren, to be preached to things insensate, or to brute beasts, that the Lord said to his disciples : Preach the Gospel to every creature? Nay ; but by the words Every creature, we must understand man, in whom are combined qualities of all creatures. Being he hath in common with stones, life in common with trees, feeling in common with beasts, understanding in common with angels. If, then, man hath something in common with every creature, man is to a certain extent every creature. The Gospel, then, if it be preached to man only, is preached to every creature.  [END OF SERMON]

Ascension Thursday marks the day that our Lord rose to sit at the right hand of the Father, as we say in the Creed, "from whence he shall come again to judge the living and the dead".  As Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, he is constantly interceding for us, and the 5 wounds in his hands, feet and side are, as stated in a rosary meditation that I do, "an endless plea before the Father on our behalf." 

This is a wonderful, joyous feast day, bittersweet to an extent because our Lord no longer walks the earth with us.  But we know that he is always with us in the Eucharist, and as we will see in 10 days, he has given us the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to guide and lead us in all righteousness. 

It is very sad that most of the United States dioceses no longer celebrate this day as a holy day of obligation but now celebrate "Ascension Thursday" on Sunday.  I feel this takes away great meaning from it, for it was 40 days after the resurrection that Christ ascended into heaven, not 43 days.  I pray that someday the Church as a whole will return to the orthodoxy that will strengthen the faith of her members and lead them into heaven with the resurrected and glorified Jesus Christ, who now sits at the right hand of his father.


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