Delivered at Saint Paul’s, Riverside at the Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2016
In this age in which the Bible is used in society every which way for every which cause, it is easy to forget how deeply personal its words are. Over the last two centuries of biblical scholarship, we have learned that “the Bible itself is no objective record of events and sayings, no set of revealed propositions, no manual of morals and no biography of Jesus.” So what, then, is it? “It is an intensely personal interpretation of the experience of the biblical writers from within the community of faith.”  That community—the Church—experienced the Ascension of Jesus in a variety of ways. In two accounts, Ascension occurs on Easter Day, in the evening; in today’s reading from Acts, forty days after Easter Day. Yet in all three accounts the Ascension is not experienced as an absence of Jesus, but rather as his real presence in a new and more powerful way.
New and powerful, indeed, and intensely personal. In Saint Luke’s gospel, the immediate reaction to the Ascension is “great joy.” Not great sadness; not great confusion or despondence—great joy. Luke tells us as well the disciples “were continually in the temple blessing God.” And so we have prayer and liturgical worship to go with great joy. Saint Mark, in his account, tells us the disciples “went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them.” All of the disciples’ experiences—all their life and actions, all their contemplation—became filled with Jesus.
Ascended to His Father, he became intensely personal for the Church. When Jesus was with them in His flesh, they often were confused, even challenged him—they did not understand who he truly was. But when he ascended, they knew—they grasped together in prayer that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, definitively reveals ultimate reality—that he was indeed the Son of God, sitting at the right hand of the Father. They knew that Jesus ascended so that he might fill all things.
All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. All of creation, all creatures both great and small, are the expression of God. The nature of the primordial Father is to give—to make, to create—and all that is manifest comes to be through the Word that speaks and expresses—the Son. And the love between the Father and Son—what unites them, and unites us as His creatures to them—is the Holy Spirit, for He is the shared will between Father and Son. Every creature is the sensible expression of a thought of the Son of God, of Jesus.
All of creation expresses Jesus—yet clearly he is more expressed in some parts of it more than in others. As Pope Leo the Great said over 1,500 years ago, what was visible of our Redeemer at the Ascension was changed into a sacramental presence.  Jesus chose bread and wine to express, to be, Him. And that fact we particularly celebrate today in the First Holy Communion of Isadora Dallman and Oona Dallman, as well as the recently received First Holy Communion of Jacob Bailis. We all celebrate—some of us in deeply gratifying ways—the journey toward unity with God that Oona, Isadora and Jacob are on.
It is, undoubtedly, intensely personal for them; we pray it grows ever-more intensely personal as the journey continues—and yet it is the journey of the oldest tradition of the Christian People of God. The Eucharist, supported by daily Office prayers and lived out as Devotional fellowship with the world based on the Bible—these are the repeatable parts of Baptism. Jacob, Isadora and Oona have all chosen, of their own free will, to receive preparation of Holy Communion through guidance, teaching and prayer. May the Eucharist fill them, and continue to fill us all, and give us all great joy to bless God through our worship and to go forth into the world preaching the Good News of Christ, knowing that everywhere we go, the Lord is there working with us. Alleluia! Christ the Lord ascendeth into heaven: O come let us adore him. Alleluia!
Cover image “Ascension of Christ” by Guariento D’Arpo is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original