Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Feast of the Ascension

Written by  Fr. Bruce McAllister

Today out Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him. Saint Paul described well what it means to live by and through the power of the ascended Christ: ‘If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth.” (Colossians chapter 3, verse1)

In the collect for Ascension, we acknowledge that the Lord Jesus Christ is our exultation, and we pray that where the Head has gone before in glory, the Body is called to follow in hope.

We know that to be a people who follow Jesus into the new creation that we must be a people of prayer. On the Day of Ascension, Jesus instructed his disciples to remain at prayer in Jerusalem before they were to venture forth and proclaim the gospel. The Lord knew the disciples needed the divine power that only God could give them for their mission. Jesus said, “But you shall receive power after the Holy Spirit is come upon you; and you shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the utmost part of the earth.” (Acts chapter 1, verse 8)

Prayer is essential for the lives of the faithful. This truth is evident in the life of Saint Thomas More.

The movie A Man for All Seasons is based on the life of Saint Thomas More. He rose to prominence when King Henry VIII appointed him chancellor of England in 1529. But tragedy soon struck his life.

Henry divorced his queen and remarried. He was unable to receive an annulment of previous marriage from the Holy See. To combat civil and religious opposition to his new marriage, King Henry ordered certain high dignitaries of the state to sign a document swearing that his new marriage was valid. Henry passes word along that is they refused, they would be tried for treason.

A dramatic scene occurred when Lord Norfolk presented the document to Thomas More. Thomas refused to sign it. Norfolk appealed to Thomas to reconsider in light of his love for his family and friends.

But Thomas knew that a more important love was at stake: his love of God. He could not swear in God’s name to something he knew to be false.

Shortly afterward, Thomas was arrested, tried, found guilty, and executed for treason.

The role that prayer played in Mores’ decision is evident from a letter that he penned from the Tower of London whilst awaiting execution to his daughter, Meg. He wrote:

“I shall remember how Saint Peter at a blast of wind began to sink because of his lack of faith, and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ and pray to him for help. And then I trust he shall place his holy hand on me and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning. And therefore, my own good daughter, do not let your mind be troubled.”

Even though Thomas More knew what decision to make, he needed courage to make it. Prayer gave him the courage.

Jesus told his disciples to remain in Jerusalem, “Until they were clothed with power from on high.” We open ourselves to the transforming power of God’s grace through prayer.

The Ascension is the glorious proclamation that we are called and given the grace to follow the Lord Jesus Christ into His new creation of faith, hope, and love!

The Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ should help to lift our hearts and spirits so that we may be vessels of His compassion as we seek to respond to the suffering that pervades much of the world during this pandemic. We need to be balanced in looking vertically and horizontally for the presence of Jesus. Saint Luke writes that at the Ascension two men dressed in white garments stood beside the disciples and said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing looking up at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” (Acts chapter 1, verse 11) Ultimately, these prophetic words point to the glorious return of the exalted Lord Jesus Christ at the end of this age. However, these words also point to the omnipresence of the Risen and Ascended Lord Jesus, among us in the sacraments and the scriptures.

The omnipresence of the Lord can also be experienced in many powerful, yet incognito ways, especially during Covid-19. There are many individuals of good will who might not consider themselves to be adherents of any particular religious faith who are giving of themselves 24/7 to alleviate human suffering and to share the light of compassion with others. I would submit that these heroes are agents and instruments of God’s incognito presence. Their lives remind us not to spend all of our time looking up at the sky for the presence of Jesus, but to look around us and to participate in the continuing work of God’s creation, redemption and sanctification of humankind. Have a Happy Feast Day!

Father Bruce McAllister, JCL

Read 296 times Last modified on Wednesday, May 20, 2020