Rector’s Ramblings: Feast of the Ascension
Thursday, May 18th, 2023
The Feast of the Ascension has long been a favorite of mine – not least, I am sure, because The Church of the Ascension (Episcopal), Westminster, Maryland, was my old home parish, and under the rectorship of the Rev’d Ronald S. Fisher (Father Ron, an exemplary priest and pastor, and one of the drafters and signatories of the Baltimore Declaration), it was a stalwart defender of theological orthodoxy in the Diocese of Maryland.
But personal connections and nostalgia aside, the Ascension is one of those feasts on the ecclesiastical calendar which is all-too-often overlooked: falling as it does on a Thursday every year, it is easy to neglect or even ignore it, in a culture which associates church-going (except, perhaps, for Christmas) with Sundays. Even here at Christ Church, we celebrated it on its eve, at the regular mid-week celebration of the Holy Eucharist on Wednesday.
But at least we did celebrate it! And that is important, because the Ascension is theologically important. The last feast dealing specifically with that half of the liturgical year which recounts Christ’s life and ministry, Ascension “bookends” that life and ministry, bringing the Incarnation full circle, as it were. Beginning with the Annunciation and culminating with the Nativity, “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and now, on the feast of the Ascension, angelic messengers ask the disciples,
“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.”
In the Incarnation, the Divine Word took on human form, from the substance of the Virgin Mary, His Mother: He became man, and lived among us, like unto us in all ways, save without sin. But – and here’s the critical part, that is often missed – in the Ascension, He took that human form up into Heaven itself, and continues to reign, fully God and fully man, in the heavenly places. He did not merely ascend in spirit, and leave His human form crumpled upon the ground, like a suit of discarded clothes.
Rather, He ascended as He had become incarnate: two Natures, human and divine, in one Person, Jesus the Christ, as the Definition of Chalcedon, articulated and approved, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, at the Ecumenical Council of the same name in 451, relates:
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.
So when St. Paul writes, in Hebrews 4:15-16, that “we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need,” he was not kidding! Not only when He walked the earth, but even now as He reigns from heaven, Christ our Lord shares our human nature, even as by His grace and mercy, we have the hope that we will one day share in His divine nature.
That is the meaning and the power of the Ascension. Thanks be to God!
Fr. Tom Harbold
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Propers and Lessons for the Sunday after Ascension Day.
O GOD, the King of glory, who hast exalted thine only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph unto thy kingdom in heaven; We beseech thee, leave us not comfortless; but send to us thine Holy Ghost to comfort us, and exalt us unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
¶ This Collect is to be said daily throughout the Octave.
The Epistle. 1 St. Pet. iv. 7.
THE end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another without grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
The Gospel. St. John xv. 26, and part of chap. xvi.
WHEN the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning. These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them.
Announcements for the Week of Sunday, May 21st, 2023
If you are visiting us – Welcome to Christ Church Anglican, Southern Pines! Thank you for being with us. We are very pleased to have you, and hope that your worship here is a blessing to you. Please sign the guest book on the table in the narthex, and provide appropriate contact information. Include your email address in order to be placed on our parish email list: you won’t be bombarded with mail, but it’s a good way to keep in touch. And may God bless you!
Adult Christian Education – Our Adult Christian Education class on “Being an Anglican” continues this Sunday, May 21st, at 9 o’clock a.m. in the Rector’s Office. Please feel free to join in; you need not have attended the earlier sessions (“cheat sheets” will be available for the parts you missed)! As I’ve mentioned previously, this class is equally suitable for those who are new to Anglicanism, and those who are long-time Anglicans, but who wish a “refresher course.”
Holy Days for the Week of May 14th, 2023
Friday, May 26th – St. Augustine of Canterbury, Archbishop (605)
Saturday, May 27th – St. Bede the Venerable, Priest and Monk, Historian (735)