A more mature faith enabled their minds to stretch upward to the Son in his equality with the Father; it no longer needed contact with Christ’s tangible body, in which as a human being he is inferior to the Father. For while his glorified body retained the same nature, the faith of those who believed in him was now summoned to heights where, as the Father’s equal, the only-begotten Son is reached not by physical handling but by spiritual discernment.
From Sermon 2 for the Ascension
Leo the Great, Bishop of Rome, 461 (Commemorated November 10)
The Feast of the Ascension marks a great, joyful event in the story not only of Christ’s work of reconciliation, but of human spiritual maturity as well. St. Leo draws this out in his sermon on the Ascension, from which the above brief extract comes.
Leo, deeply immersed in the Gospel of St. John and its understanding of The Word Made Flesh drawing a redeemed humanity into heaven, views the Ascension not as an absence of Christ from the world but a presence of humankind with God. Through the Ascension, a restoration of perpetual union and communion between God and humanity is completed in a physical and spiritual sense. Using the language of ascent, the Scriptures show how Christ has brought all that was formerly severed back into relationship. He provides for us a pattern for Christian life and witness: those who follow him must be about the ministry of reconciliation, showing forth what he has done for us in our own lives and allowing God to bridge heaven and earth through us.
Beyond this, the Ascension calls believers to a higher form of faith: one not reliant on the purely physical, but on a spiritual communion. By ascending to the Father and leaving this earth, Christ requires us to move beyond a merely local form of faith (needing a single physical person or object to fixate upon) to a global, eternal, and mobile faith, one with an unseverable communion in God attending us wherever we go. St. Leo calls this a “summoning to the heights” along with Christ, a new level of spiritual maturity, made possible by sharing in the Risen Life of our Lord in prayer, sacraments, immersion in the Holy Scriptures, and the community life of Christ’s Body, the Church.
Ascension Day prepares us for the Pentecost by pointing up and beyond our own immediate experience, location, and era. This is Christ’s parting gift to us—something that we may, at times, find hard to see as the gift it is. The tendency to fixate on the immediate, the visible, the well known is natural but ultimately destructive to faith. By removing a simple dependence on his time- and space-limited body and replacing it with personal communion in the completely free (and freeing!) presence of the Holy Spirit, Our Lord has given us the most precious of gifts: an enduring, mature, indestructible bond between ourselves, him, and—through him—our Heavenly Father.
Now, that is something to celebrate! A blessed Ascension Day to you!
A Collect for Ascension Day:
Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into heaven, so we may also in heart and mind there ascend, and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.