Thursday, May 21, 2009

Risen, Ascended, Glorified

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Colossians 3:1

“He has raised our human nature in the clouds to God’s right hand;

There we sit in heavenly places, there with Him in glory stand:

Jesus reigns, adored by angels; man with God is on the throne;

Mighty Lord, in Thine ascension we by faith behold our own.”

- Bishop Christopher Wordsworth, 1807-1885 

The Ascension of Christ is difficult for modern people much more because of what it says about humanity than for any perceived defect in its cosmogony. The message of this Principal Feast is simply too great, too noble for our diminished vision of the human being. The Ascension boldly asserts that through Christ the human person already partakes in the spiritual gifts of and communion with God the Father. When Christ rises triumphantly into the heavens 40 days after his Resurrection, he is not demonstrating his power through a proof like “levitation,” nor is his rising  merely a mechanical "event" like sending up a kind of spiritual rocket to God the Father. It is a mystery, a witness to something profoundly true: he is drawing all of redeemed humanity into the presence and power of God, where it belongs.

How reduced, how stunted is the secular vision of humanity! Attempting to satisfy spiritual beings with material things, or giving out data or propaganda or advertising as a substitute for wisdom, we gradually learn to lower our expectations of being human. We say “I’m only human” as if it were a rather embarrassing excuse, not a confession of a miraculous gift. Instead of seeing the human person as Christ sees it – full of divine potential for holy love because Christ has raised it with him – we see the “un-ascended human” as the norm. We miss the glorious truth because it exceeds our expectations.

Many churches today have no celebration of the Ascension, or perhaps move it to some convenient mid-week said service. Many homilists today spend more time trying to "debunk" or "justify" the Ascension than entering into its meaning. This is further evidence of our diminished vision, our forgetting the gift we have already received in Christ. Bishop Wordsworth’s hymn recalls us to the truth: We are more than we know; we were created for Glory. Our destiny is restored now by being raised to the Right Hand of God in Christ. This is what it means to be “only human” for the Christian: a completely transformed personhood, “seeking the things that are above,” where Christ and our restored humanity already are. We experience a foretaste of it in every Holy Eucharist. We who know the Ascended Christ can be satisfied with nothing less.

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