The Sunday after the Ascension
A Word about the Readings
by Father Gethin
(The readings may be found here)
“Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:9)
His earthly work fulfilled, Christ Ascends, to make His triumphant return into heavenly glory with the Father; and in this way the Grace and Truth which was revealed in His Incarnation (John 1:14), we now see fully accomplished, so that Paul can proclaim, “[The Father] raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, … And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Eph. 5:2) The story is complete. Christ Ascends to reign on high, and in that glory He also establishes the hope of our calling, our eternal joy obtained, by Him who loves us— “I go to prepare a place for you.” The way is at last prepared, so that we who longed for a peace and blessing beyond the world’s fleeting treasures, might follow after Him. And we are assured that our hope will not be disappointed: “Seek, and ye shall find,” He promised, to all who would take up their cross and follow Him.
No doubt it was a bewildering, and even a sorrowful thing, for those first disciples to be left “gazing up into heaven.” They were aware, certainly, of their Lord’s divine glory, but much less certain of their own earthly circumstances, now that Christ was gone from them. And so, for us, who stand on the other side of Pentecost, it is above all our privilege, that we may take time to celebrate, and to rejoice in, the sheer joy and gladness of this brief season, between the Ascent of the Messiah, and the Descent of the Holy Spirit. The day would soon arrive when the Spirit would make clear the Church’s new life and work, the work for which Paul prepares us in this week’s epistle: “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” We are saved to become the witnesses of that Salvation for all times and places: “the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: and ye also shall bear witness.” It is the way of the disciple to honour the Master. But first of all, that way must rest upon a new ground, illumined by a new and visible glory, that inspires and uplifts the follower on their journey; and we find that glory, here, in the days after the Ascension. In the ten days before Pentecost, we come to stand on the free ground of Christ’s New Commandment: now that the old Law is fulfilled, we find ourselves a people newly liberated, pilgrims in a new spiritual wilderness, not formed by the hard truths of justice and condemnation, but rather, by the fullness of joy and peace we come to know in the outpouring of the free grace of God. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another…Peace I leave with you, my Peace I give unto.” And in His shining heavenly face, we see that love and peace made perfect.
And so, “above all things have fervent charity among yourselves,” Paul reminds us, never neglect the joyful labour of your new goal:
the new Promised Land of heaven. The way is now open and free before you, as your Saviour awaits your arrival; and from His throne of glory, He is the Rock Who constantly refreshes us with the new Waters of Life, renewing us daily on our passage home. Thanks be to God, and glory be to the Lamb, Risen, Ascended, Glorified! Amen!