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Meditation for Ascension Day

“I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”

Jesus’ famous words to Mary in the stories of the Resurrection already point us to the culmination of the Resurrection in the Ascension of Christ. Such is the mystery of God’s essential life opened out to us precisely through the words of the Rogation Gospel on Sunday past. “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father”  (Jn. 16. 28). God is made known to us and for us in the comings and goings of Christ, the Word and Son of the Father. There is the going forth of the Word in Creation and now there is the return of the Word in Redemption signaled most completely in the Ascension.

The Ascension is the homecoming of the Son to the Father. The idea of homecoming is a rich and arresting idea. Home has such a powerful resonance and meaning. It speaks at once to the places in which we live but even more to the sense of spiritual identity and purpose. Who we are is grounded in Christ, in his going forth and return to the Father in the bond of the Spirit, the ever-present third, which belongs to the dialogic structure of all thought and reality. The Ascension marks the end, in the sense of purpose, of all creation. Its end and thus our end is found in the return of the Son to the Father. We abide in those eternal motions of heavenly love. Exitus et reditus. A going forth and a return. Everything is gathered back to God and has its meaning and purpose in God.

The Ascension teaches us the deeper meaning of prayer: “God’s breath in man returning to his birth,” as Herbert puts it. Creation redeemed has its crowning expression in the Ascension of Christ. Yet this feast, almost invariably lost to view falling, as it does, on the fortieth day after Easter and, thus, on a Thursday, highlights the radical and deep meaning of prayer. Prayer belongs to our homecoming in Christ’s homecoming. “We ascend in the ascension of our hearts,” as Augustine wonderfully puts it. Prayer is the motion of the Ascension in us. “Lift up your hearts.”

Far from being a flight from the world, it celebrates the redemption of all creation as returned to God in whom it has its being and meaning, its beginning and end. The very structure of some of our church buildings, such as Christ Church, architecturally speaking, illustrates the very motion of the Ascension. We go from the font to the altar in a kind of ascension that leads us up through the nave to the chancel steps and under the Rood Screen (under the Cross) to the sanctuary and altar. Such a movement in space and structure is the form of our participation in Christ’s going to the Father. The very beams of the building proclaim Christ as the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of all things. We are embraced in those wooden beams symbolic of Christ’s sacrifice and life and its culmination in the return of the Son to the Father. Such is the Ascension.

Our liturgy, too, in its ritual acts symbolizes the going forth of God’s Word proclaimed in the Gospel and the gathering of our souls to God’s Word made visible in the Sacraments. In every sense, there is the lifting up our souls and our world to God in prayer and praise, in Word and Sacrament, in service and sacrifice.

In the conditions of the latest lockdown, we may not be able to gather together in person but my hope is that we are together in prayer, the prayer that gathers all things to the care of God and that places ourselves in that care for one another. We live in the endtimes of all things by abiding in God’s eternal life opened out to us through the comings and goings of Christ. That is our joy and our strength even in difficult and uncertain times.

“I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”

Fr. David Curry
Ascension 2021