Ascension, the 40th Day

Easter is a season of 50 days, the Ascension falls on the 40th of those days. The Ascension the Day Jesus left this earth in human form. Luke tells us that the disciples were then left were staring up, in a bit of a dwam, wondering now what?

Gregory of Nyssa in his Oration ‘on the resurrection’, said:

‘This is the day that the Lord has made’ – a day very different from those made when the world was first created and which are measured by the passage of time. This is the beginning of a new creation. On this day, as the prophet says, God makes a new heaven and a new earth. What is this new heaven? you may ask. It is the firmament of our faith in Christ. What is the new earth? A good heart, a heart like the earth, which drinks up the rain that falls on it and yields a rich harvest. In this new creation, purity of life is the sun, the virtues are the stars, transparent goodness is the air, and ‘the depths of the riches of wisdom and knowledge’, the sea. Sound doctrine, the divine teachings are the grass and plants that feed God’s flock, the people whom he shepherds, the keeping of the commandments is the fruit borne by the trees. On this day is created a new humanity, one made in the image and likeness of God. For ‘this day the Lord has made’ is the beginning of this new world. Of this day the prophet says that it is not like any other day, nor is this night like other nights. But still we have not spoken of the greatest gift it has brought us. This day destroyed the pangs of death and brought to birth the firstborn of the dead.

‘I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God,’

declares the risen Christ. O what wonderful good news! He who for our sake became like us in order to make us his brothers and sisters, now presents to his true Father his own humanity in order to draw all his brothers and sisters up after him.

We are part of creation, not above it, or separate from it. The wind and waves, the trees and animals, the sun and moon, all creation praises God as Psalm 148 proclaims. In the Ascension there is completion, new life can be both on earth and in heaven, all is part of the wonder of creation, restored by God through Jesus. The Church makes a lot of Jesus’ birth, a lot of his death, and a lot of his Resurrection, and rightly so. However, without the Ascension the reset button hasn’t been pressed. When Jesus walked this earth in human form the disciples were full of questions, uncertainties, they were dubious and lacked, well faith, faith that they could act and do in Jesus’ name. They were cautious and taking risks wasn’t for them. It would have probably stayed the same, certainly none of the resurrection appearances appear to suggest a new found desire on their part to go out beyond what they knew, to take risks to spread the Good News. Indeed it could be said that even after the Ascension they were slow to do so, the Epistles in the New Testament are full of hesitancy over Gentiles, or being other than a Jew like their ancestors.

Easter declared a new creation, Ascension declares we need to get on and live it. God can and will help us, the Spirit will guide and comfort us, but we are not the instruments of forwarding God’s plan. As Teresa of Avila wrote:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

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