|38 SEVENTH SUNDAY OF PASCHA. THE THEOLOGY OF ASCENSION|
Acts 20.16-18, 28-36
It’s in the mystery of the LORD’s Tomb, His Sabbath Rest—i.e. in the Church, in the Body of Christ—that we come upon the LORD’s Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven. For the Tomb is the Font of His Resurrection and Ascension. In the Tomb, in the Church’s baptismal Font, the Heavens are opened, the LORD’s Heavenly Spirit descends, and we are clothed in the Robe of Light, the LORD Jesus Christ Himself. He opens our minds to understand His Gospel teachings. (Lk 24.45) He opens the eyes of our heart to ‘behold’ with St John (Jn 20.8) the mystery of our salvation. In the Church, in the mystery of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest, we see that the LORD’s salvation proclaimed by Moses, David and the prophets, the holy apostles and evangelists is nothing less than our deification, our receiving and our partaking of the uncreated Glory (Jn 17.10)—this is the Holy Spirit—that Our LORD Jesus Christ had with His Father before the world was (Jn 17.5). By your prayers, my hope this morning is to draw in your mind an icon of this theological vision revealed in the Ascension of Our LORD Jesus Christ.
In His Ascension, the LORD ‘finishes’ the work for which the Father sent Him into the world (Jn 17.4). That work was to complete the creation ‘the Father [o theos]’ through His Son and in His Holy Spirit (Gn 1.2-3), ‘began to do’ when He rested on the Sabbath in the beginning (Gn 2.3 LXX).
In His Resurrection, Christ ascends to Heaven where He was before, and He is glorified with the Glory He had with the Father before the world was. (Jn 17.5) Can you see Jesus’ divine identity? For our human nature was not in Heaven at the Right Hand of the Father before the world was. The LORD’s Ascension into Heaven to where He was before reveals that Jesus is not a man born of Mary and then joined to God somehow, either by adoption or the Father’s good pleasure. He is the ‘only-begotten Son of God’ (Jn 1.18; cf. Ex 3.14), of one essence with the Father by whom all things were made.
Moreover, the Gospels make clear that Jesus rose from the dead in the same body in which He was crucified, dead and buried. And it was in this same body that He ascended in Glory to where He was before; and as He ascended, the angels did not recognize Him: ‘Who is this King of Glory that comes in red garments from Bosra!’ they want to know. (Ps 24.8, Isa 63.1f.) He is the LORD God, mighty in battle. (Ps 24.8) The Doors of Heaven are opened and the LORD Jesus sits at His Father’s Right Hand as He did before, but now He sits at the Father’s Right Hand as the Son of Adam, the Son of God (Lk 3.38), clothed now in the blood-stained garment of Adam, in our flesh and blood that He now shares with us. (Heb 2.14)
This theology of Ascension reveals that we are not spirits trapped in a body as in a prison-house. We are created in the image and likeness of God, and our body is a holy temple meant for God to enter and to abide in us and we with God, for the LORD to eat ‘bread’ with us and us with the LORD God (Eze 44.3, Rev 3.20), and we become, body and soul, ‘partakers of the divine nature.’ (2 Pt 1.4) We were created, that is to say, to become, body and soul, one with the ‘only-begotten God’ as He is one with His Father. Our ‘end’ is to know God directly, not just to know about Him, because the only-begotten God Himself, the LORD Jesus Christ, lives in us and we in Him, and we abide in the Joy of the Holy Trinity, our body and soul radiant and fragrant with the Glory of God. His Holy Spirit overshadows us as He overshadowed the tabernacle of Moses and the temple of Solomon, and finally, as He overshadowed the Living Temple of God, the Holy Virgin Panagia (All-Holy) Theotokos (Eze 44.4), and the Son of God was conceived in Her womb as the Son of Man. (Lk 1.35)
Now we begin also to see, by way of a most pertinent excursus, the mystery and beauty of the ‘woman.’ She was made specifically, it says, to be a helper to Adam. Now we see exactly how she helps him. It is through the woman that the only-begotten Son of God is able to be born in the flesh (Jn 1.14) as the Son of Man, and man, through the Woman, the Church, the Virgin Bride of God who comes forth from the Rib of the New Adam (Jn 19.34, cf. Gn 2.21-22 and Eze 47.1ff, Joel 3.18!) so that She is bone of His bones and flesh of His flesh, is able to become a ‘son of God.’ By the woman, then, the Son of God, as the Son of Adam and as the New Adam, from within the mystery of His Sabbath Rest, finishes the creation God had begun when He rested on the Sabbath in the beginning (Gn 2.1-3). This is how the woman ‘helps’ Adam: through Her, Adam (as male and female) is able now to become God in the God who, by the woman, became Adam.
Can you see that the woman is the Ground of our salvation? Without Her, there is no salvation for without Her, God cannot be born as a little Child and share in our flesh and blood to destroy our death at its root. This is why the serpent seeks to devour the woman, and why he makes war on Her offspring, those who keep the commandments of God, Her Son, and who are martyrs for Jesus, Her Son and our God. (Rev 12.13-17) Now we see why the story of Eve and the serpent is such a ‘big deal,’ and why the issues of ‘woman’ and ‘gender’ today are suffused with anger and hatred. The woman was fashioned by God to become His Mother, the Root of our Life, the Root of our Salvation; so the prince of darkness seeks to seduce her to receive into her womb his seed instead of God’s, so that she brings forth not God incarnate but his own brood of vipers to destroy man, the ‘son of God,’ whom he hates.
Even so, Adam named the woman taken from his rib, ‘Eve,’ Mother of life. In the Spirit, he saw in the woman the mystery of the Holy Virgin Mary, the ‘woman’ who became truly ‘Eve,’ the Virgin Mother of God. He is the True Life, born of the beloved, most blessed Virgin Theotokos as Son of Man, the New Adam.
As I said, the LORD ascends in Glory from the mystery of His Sabbath Rest in the Tomb. And in His Ascension, the LORD finishes the work that God had begun when He rested on the Sabbath in the beginning (Gn 2.3 LXX). When He clothed Himself in our flesh in the sanctuary of the Virgin’s most sacred womb, the only-Begotten God clothed Himself in our death and our corruption. And in His Holy Pascha, He destroyed our death at its root from inside of us. More than that, He became one with us (Heb 2.14) so that we could become one with Him (Jn 17.11). He emptied the Tomb. That is, He cleansed it of death and corruption, of sin and unrighteousness so that the Holy Spirit could now come to dwell in us and make us, once again, ‘living souls’ (Gn 2.7). For as it says: ‘Crooked thoughts separate from God; Wisdom shall not dwell in the body subject to sin, and the Holy Spirit will not abide when unrighteousness comes in’ (Wisd 1.3-5).
But now by His Holy Pascha, the Son of God has cleansed and even deified our nature. Therefore, when in His Resurrection, He ascends to Heaven as the New Adam, He is able to finish His work of creation by sending down His Holy Spirit upon us who receive Him and who unite ourselves to Him in the sacramental mysteries of the ‘woman,’ His Bride, the Church. Through His Holy Spirit, the LORD cleanses us of all our sins, and raises us from death to life as children of God, a New Creation. Clothed in the Heavenly Spirit of God, we are ‘glorified’ with the power of God to take up our cross and to follow the risen LORD Jesus Christ into Galilee, into our everyday life, all the way to the ‘outlet of the sea,’ our ‘death,’ as to the ‘Mountain’ of the LORD’s Ascension, whence He brings us into His Heavenly Kingdom as He promised through His prophets He would do (e.g., Eze 37.12-14) to sit with Him at the Father’s Right Hand. Pentecost, then, is what Christ’s Ascension is all about; and Pentecost is all about our ascending into Heaven. Our Ascension to the Father in the Spirit of the risen Christ is the ‘New Exodus’ you hear tell of in the prophets; it is the ‘inner Exodus’ of the Gospel.
The Church is the Body of Christ. We cannot come into the Church, then, without receiving the Heavenly Spirit who raised Christ bodily from the dead. And we receive the Heavenly Spirit of Christ not as an idea but as our food and drink, as our ‘manna’ from Heaven, in Holy Eucharist. Into the ‘unfinished’ creation of our bodies, the old Adam, this ‘body of death’ (Rm 7.24) still subject to death and corruption in a world that hates God, we are receiving the New Creation that is now finished in the risen Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the New Adam. We are receiving the Second Coming of Christ in which the world that seeks to destroy God is destroyed, and the New Heavens and the New Earth have come into being in the victory of Christ’s Cross.
We therefore should not despair when we see the ‘signs’ of the end-times all around us. Our eyes and our ears should not be turned to the world that hates God and seeks to destroy Him; they should be turned to the mystery of God that is Christ within you (Col 1.27-28), the Kingdom of Heaven within you (Lk 17.21), the LORD who is ascended in Glory and who sits, clothed in our own flesh and blood, at the Father’s Right Hand within you, having overcome the world and destroyed the devil within you.
Having received the Heavenly Spirit of Christ in His Body, the Church, our work now is to take up our cross in the power of the Holy Spirit and follow the risen LORD Jesus into Galilee, into our everyday life by centering our life on prayer and on obedience to the commandments of Christ, not on our love for the flesh, and not on the wisdom of the world. For the root of our life is no more in the old Adam, in this ‘body of death.’ (Rm 7.24) The Root of our Life is now in the New Eve, the Virgin Theotokos, the mystery of the Church, the ‘Mother of us all’ (Gal 4.26); and if it is in Her, then it is in the real biblical Christ who became flesh from no other Mother but the Virgin Mary, and who, through Her, dwelt among as the New Adam. In the Church, in the mystery of the woman, the Root of our life is the Heavenly Spirit of the risen LORD Jesus Christ who has ascended in Glory and now sits at the Father’s Right Hand where He was before, and where we are now in our spirit, in our heart, if we are uniting ourselves body and soul to the deified flesh and blood of Christ Jesus, the Son of Adam, the Son of God. Amen!