|34 - Seventh Sunday of Pascha, May 24, 2015|
Acts 20:16-18, 28-36
“O Christ God, Thou hast ascended in glory, granting joy to Thy disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit!” And, such glory and joy there is in this feast. And yet, the Holy Ascension of Our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ may be the least understood of all the feasts. Contemplating the words of the Church, what I see in Ascension is that moment when the tomb of the heart, having been transfigured into a bridal chamber in the LORD’s holy resurrection, begins really to know the Name of the Father: (Jn 17:6) it is the love of God that abides forever. (I Jn 4:8)
In the Feast of Ascension, we see why the heart of man is so deep (cf. Jer 17:9 LXX). She opens out into the love of God that abides forever! Clothed in the Glory of the LORD Jesus Christ that He had with the Father before ever the world came to be and so before ever human nature came to be, she enters into the very bosom of the Father! His own uncreated glory and virtue become hers, (II Pt 1:3) and Man, created anew in the New Adam, Jesus Christ, becomes what he was made to be: the Temple of the Holy Spirit. (I Cor 6:19)
When the Savior ascended to heaven, the Acts of the Apostles says He was taken up in a cloud. (Acts 1:9) Each word of the Church comes from the Father; and so, each word is like a divine, radiant cloud dripping wet with the living waters of the Holy Spirit. These are the words the holy fathers guarded with all vigilance so that the dogma of the Church manifests truly the Name of God. Guided by these words,let us enter the cloud as Peter and John entering the LORD’s Tomb, that we may behold the theological meaning of the linen cloths and napkin rolled up and lying in their own place. (Jn 20:6-8; cf. Ps 102:26) It is of such beauty it amazed even the angels!
Are not clouds filled with water? The LORD said: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it happens.” (Lk 9:34)
But, have we not “beheld the Resurrection of Christ”? Have we not seen the cloud rising in the west; i.e., Christ rising from the dead? Perhaps the LORD’s words about the cloud rising in the west weren’t so random after all? Perhaps they were dripping wet with hidden meaning? Perhaps the Cloud rising in the west refers to His Holy Resurrection and His Glorious Ascension? If so, then the Cloud in the LORD’s words comes into view as the Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. Now, we begin to see that this Cloud in which the LORD was taken up into heaven was no fluffy, white cloud from the sky. I’m inclined to believe it is the Glory that the LORD had with the Father before the world came to be. (Jn 17:5)
On Pentecost, the LORD will say: “Let Him who is thirsty come to Me and drink and from his inmost being will flow rivers of living water.” (Jn 7:37) The showers, then, that are coming are the Holy Spirit the LORD said they were about to receive as He was taken up into heaven. (Acs 1:8)
The angel says, “This Jesus will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” (Acs 1:9) The LORD ascended in a Cloud. He will come to the disciples in the Cloud; and, if the Cloud is the Holy Spirit, the angel is speaking of Pentecost. When that Cloud descends onto the disciples in the Upper Room, the Second Coming already begins to be present here and now in the Church – i.e., in the Cloud of the Holy Spirit, the Glory of the LORD.
Liturgical texts say that this Cloud took the LORD up into heaven as in a chariot. I begin to see this “Cloud” now everywhere in Holy Scripture. I see it as the “Spirit of God was brooding (like a mother hen over her eggs) over the face of the waters”; as the mist that went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground, when as yet there was no plant or herb that had sprung up from the earth. In that mist, i.e., in the “Cloud”, the LORD God fashioned man and raised him up from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the Holy Spirit so that man became a living soul. (Gn 2:4-7) I see it as the Cloud that led Israel through the wilderness; the Cloud that covered the mountain when Moses went up to receive the Law and learned the Name of God: “He Who Is,” the Name of the LORD Jesus Christ; as the Glory of the LORD that rested (as the tongues of fire rested on the disciples at Pentecost) on the tent of meeting in the wilderness so that the tabernacle was filled with the Glory of the LORD and Moses was not able to enter it (Exo 40:34-35); as the Glory of the LORD that fell from heaven again and filled the temple of Solomon so that the priests could not enter it (2 Chron 7:1); as the fiery chariot that took Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kgs 2:11 – as the Spirit came to the disciples with the sound of a mighty wind, Acs 2:2); as the train of the LORD that filled the temple of Heaven in Isaiah’s vision (Isa 6:1); as the radiant cloud of Ezekiel’s vision that the LORD rode as a chariot, which came in the stormy wind from the north, fire flashing continually from it (Eze 1:4 – like the brilliant white lightning that robed the angel who came down in the great earthquake and rolled away the stone from the LORD’s Tomb and sat upon it in the victory of the Savior’s Cross (Mat 28:3), and, again, like the Spirit that came in the sound of a mighty, rushing wind on Pentecost); as the Glory of the LORD that filled the heavenly Temple in another of Ezekiel’s visions after, it says, Ezekiel was lifted up by the Spirit (Eze 43:5, 44:4).
I am inclined to believe that this same Cloud is the Glory of the LORD that overshadowed the Most Glorious and ever-Virgin Mary Theotokos at the Annunciation. If that Cloud is the Holy Spirit, then we see it as the Dove that descended from the Heavens that were opened at Christ’s Holy Baptism, and rested on Him (again, just as it descended on the tent of meeting and the OT temple and just as it rested on the disciples at Pentecost).
See how that Cloud of Glory in which Christ ascended rests upon and fills the whole life of Christ from His most holy conception in the sacred womb of the Most Blessed Panagia, to His Holy Baptism at the hands of JnBapt, to His going throughout all Galilee preaching the Good News of the Kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people, and casting out demons by the finger of God (the Holy Spirit; Lk 11:20), even raising the dead, to His Holy Transfiguration on Mt Tabor, to His Saving Passion on the Cross, to His Most Holy Resurrection and finally, to His Glorious Ascension when He who descended ascends to where He was before in the divine, uncreated Glory that He had with the Father before the world existed. See how that same Cloud unites the whole history of Israel, from the moment when the Spirit was breathed into Adam’s nostrils, to all the other moments we’ve named here with the Life of Christ so that in the mystery of the Word of God’ becoming flesh and dwelling among us, the whole life of Israel becomes an offering to the Father as a living sacrifice, well-pleasing to God, that finishes and makes perfect, in Him Who Is the Beginning and End of all things, the creation God had begun to do “in the beginning”. (cf. Gn 2:3 LXX)
The Church is the Body of Christ that ascended in the radiant Cloud of Glory as in a fiery chariot. When we enter into the worship of the Church, we enter into that Cloud and into the inner mystery of creation and of biblical history. It’s not a fluffy, white cloud but the Glory of the Holy Spirit that we experience in our souls in the worship of the Church according to the measure of our repentance.
Because of our spiritual weakness, that Cloud comes and goes from us. But, it never leaves the Church, the crucified, risen and ascended Body of Christ. In His Body, the Church, the LORD is with us always, even to the end of the world. In the sacramental, liturgical and iconographic worship of that Cloud, the sacred words of the Church manifest the Name of God precisely because they come from the Father. Those who receive those words receive the Father and Jesus Christ whom He sent. In that Holy Cloud, we come to know the Name of God as the inexpressible and incomprehensible love of God that abides forever because we become one with God in the Name of God which is blessed forever. Amen.