Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
In our daily lectionary, we are pointed to the incredible depth and range of the human experience that we find in the Psalms. We really do have something for the whole spectrum of the human experience in the Psalter. Today, in Psalm 47, we get the biblical manual for what to do on the day that your resurrected Lord and Saviour begins rising up from the surface of the earth until he is taken from your sight on a cloud: “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” “God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.” Admittedly, the account in the Acts of the Apostles is not actually descriptive of the heavenly musical ensemble at this precise moment. And just in case you were confused about what to do at having witnessed this incredible event, the psalmist knowingly added in “sing praises with a psalm.”
Because of the location of this festival day, it seems it would be easy for us to overlook the importance of what has happened. But the Church really was meant to pay particular attention to this specific event. So much so that the early Church placed this specific event in our baptismal creed, which we confess every day in our morning and evening prayer, reminding ourselves—and the world—that Jesus Christ ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. The second article of the Apostle’s Creed only mentions three parts of Christ’s time on earth that we confess as fundamental to the faith: his birth and Incarnation, his Passion, Death and Resurrection, and his Ascension from earth to the right hand of the Father. Two out of the three get major festivals and special seasons of preparation, and then here we are, left celebrating one of these three key elements of the salvific work of Christ on a Thursday! Perhaps a slight omission in the development of the Church’s liturgical calendar?
Did you catch that? The part about how this particular act is part of how Christ saves us? The Lord our God is a great king over all the earth and he has chosen a heritage for us. We were created to be with him eternally but we have fallen and we cannot reclaim this heritage on our own. And so Christ has come to us, and he was hung on a cross and descended into hell and he rose again, and we have the accounts of the Apostles of this time between his Resurrection and his Ascension. Christ’s Ascension is vital for us, for our faith, because it is tied in to the promises he made to the disciples before he died. Those short ones, the ones about the bread which is his Body and the wine which is the new covenant in his Blood. If we think back to the Paschal Triduum, to the story leading up to the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, we remember him instituting, teaching, and commanding this way of gathering at the table as the way that we are going to be in communion with him. The Ascension of Christ is the completion, the full completion of this act.
He promised to be with us in the breaking of bread, and in the post-Resurrection accounts he literally is revealed to be with the disciples in the breaking of bread (cf. Lk 24:13–35). But how do we continue to make this claim that when we come to the table, when we receive the bread and the wine, we are truly receiving his Body and Blood? We believe that in the sacraments, in the Eucharist, that which is in heaven comes down to us. We believe that as we use the earthly elements and speak the words and pray over them, that which is heavenly, that which is divine, is joined to them in this act. Christ, in his fully resurrected, sin-and-death-defeating, eternal-life-granting body is what was taken up into heaven. Not just his essence or his spirit, but the whole of him. And because we believe that the Christ who is in heaven is the Christ who meets us at the table, in celebrating and confessing the Ascension of Christ we are making a bold claim about the fullness of our Lord, about his real true physical presence in the Eucharist. All of Christ which is in heaven is all of Christ who come to us in the sacrament. When Jesus said that “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn 6:54), it is in the fullness of his Ascension that this becomes true every time we come to the table. This is how the Lord is reclaiming our heritage for us, how he is giving us the fullness of life that can only come from him.
And in the face of this incredible act of love and mercy, all we are left to do is follow the instructions of the Psalmist to sing God’s praises. On this day we joyfully proclaim that “God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne” (Ps 47:9). In his fullness he is Lord of heaven and earth. And this is meant to bring us to one place, the beautiful place envisioned when we think of the princes of the peoples gathering together, people of every nation, tribe, and race, the whole redeemed creation worshipping the God of our salvation as the children of Abraham—blessed children of God grafted into his salvation. “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy! Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!” (Ps 47:1, 7). Because today is the day when our Lord has gone up with a shout. Today is the day that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has ascended to his throne at the right hand of God the Father so that he can reign over all the world. And we keep singing praises because it is that Lord, that Christ, who comes to us from his seat of glory every time we come to his table. Blessings to you on this feast of our Risen Lord’s Ascension. Amen.
Featured Image: The Ascension of Jesus, detail (Sacristy, Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C.); Photo: Lawrence Lew, OP; CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0.