|40 - Seventh Sunday of Pascha - Holy Fathers and Afterfeast of Ascension, June 16, 2013|
Acts 20:16-18, 28-36
“I will incline my ear to a wise saying (a proverb); I will solve my riddle to psalmody,” (Ps 49:4) we heard the Church call out, quoting from the Psalmist, in the services for Christ’s Glorious Ascension. I think that the Feast of the Ascension of Christ may be the riddle, the proverb or wise saying par excellence of the Christian Faith.
We call on the intercessions of the most holy Theotokos to help us as we set ourselves this morning to the pleasure of contemplating the riddle, the wise saying of Christ’s Most Glorious Ascension, immersing our minds in the living waters of the Church. It is a most profound riddle that opens onto the unfathomable depths of God’s compassion and the glorious destiny for which God created man and the world in His Beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Accordingly, the riddle of Christ’s Holy Ascension is as deep and as high, as wide and as broad as is the love of God. That means that the riddle of Christ’s Glorious Ascension cannot be solved except in the living waters of God’s love.
Clothed in our human nature, Christ is raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit; and, He ascends in glory into the heavens to sit at the right hand of the Father, where He was before. In glory, in a radiant cloud, it says in the liturgical texts: i.e., in the Holy Spirit.
There is movement here, a spiritual, movement upward that corresponds to the spiritual movement downward of the Only-Begotten Son of the Father coming down from heaven to earth to become flesh of the Holy Spirit and the ever- Virgin Theotokos to dwell among us. But, it corresponds even more primordially to the movements of the Holy Spirit in the genesis, the origin of the world and man. When the spiritual movements of Christ’s Incarnation of the Blessed Virgin and of His Glorious Ascension are contemplated with these primordial movements of the Spirit, I think we see the riddle that the Psalmist is speaking of; it is the mystery of the world hidden in God from before the ages and revealed only in these latter days in the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph 3:9; Col 1:26)
In the beginning, it says that God created the heavens and the earth from out of the formless void, and that the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the deep in the tender compassion of a mother, like a mother hen brooding over her chicks: this is the image painted in the Hebrew. The Psalmist says: “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth. He spoke, and the creation came to be; He commanded, and it stood forth.” (Ps 33:6&9) There is movement here; the divine movement of God downward that generates a spiritual movement upward: the movement of creation ascending, in obedience to the divine command, from out of the formless void up into the life and light of God as though from the womb – let’s say the bridal chamber – of divine love and joy. This is the creation of the world.
Then, it says that God took from the earth and fashioned man as male and female in His own image and likeness. But, not until God breathes His Holy Spirit, the breath of life, into man does man become a living soul.
Again, we see a spiritual movement of God downward that generates a spiritual movement upward, a movement of man ascending from the clay of the earth up into the image and likeness of God and becoming a living soul.
Then, it says, God placed the man whom He had made in the garden. (Gn 2:8) Note that man is created outside, not inside the garden. Now, the topography of Eden given in Genesis 2:10 – “A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers” – shows that Eden was a mountain. So, when God places Adam in the garden, it is by a spiritual movement upward. Man ascends up intoto Eden from the earth, just as Christ, as the Second Adam, ascends into heaven from the earth.
It says in Genesis, that, “The Lord God rested on the Sabbathfrom the work that He had begun to do“; and, after raising Adam up from the clay and breathing into him the Spirit of God, the breath of life, it goes on to say: that, “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it.” (Gn 2:3 & 15) We are given in this morning’s Gospel the prayer of Jesus. We understand, because of its liturgical setting, that herein is given the theology of the Lord’s Ascension. The crucified, risen and ascending Lord prays to the Father: “I have glorified you on the earth, having completed the work which you gave me to do.” (Jn 17:4)
To glorify the Father must be the work that was given Adam to do in the Garden; it must have been this work on the part of Adam that would complete the work of creation that God had begun to do when He rested on the Sabbath.
But, what is to glorify the Father if it isn’t to love the Father, and to express that love through obedience? As the Second or New Adam, Christ completes the work that was given the first Adam to do, the work of glorifying the Father, by offering Himself on the Cross in perfect obedience to the Father out of His great love for the Father and for the man whom He had made in His own Image and Likeness. That is to say, in the Father’s love for mankind, the only-begotten Son of God descends to earth in the Holy Spirit a “second” time, if you will, this time not to raise Adam from the clay of the ground, but to perform the creative work of Himself becoming clay, i.e., flesh of the Holy Spirit and the ever-Virgin Mary, and to complete the work He had begun to do at the “first” creation by raising Adam not from the clay but from the formless void of death and hell; and then, in His love for the Father, to unite Adam to God in Himself and earth to heaven, so that in the love of Christ, in the great mysteries of His Holy Incarnation, His Sacred Death and Burial, His Holy Resurrection and Ascension, we can unite ourselves to Christ and in our union with Him through the sacred mysteries of the Church, become one with God as children of God, born from above of the Spirit, partaking of His own divine nature in His own glory and virtue – i.e., in His own Holy Spirit.
You see how the riddle of the Lord’s Ascension “splits open” the heavens to reveal to those who have united themselves to Christ in Holy Baptism, a deeper and higher movement beyond the world’s movement in time and space: the descending and ascending movement of divine love that creates life and light in the love and joy of heaven.
Now, it says in Genesis that “God placed Adam in the garden to work it and to keep it.” The Lord prays in our Gospel this morning: “I kept them in thy name, which thou hast given me; I have guarded them. (Jn 17:12) Moreover, the Lord says: “I have given them the words which Thou gavest me, and they have received them; and they have kept thy word.” (17:8&6)
There is in Holy Scripture very clearly a unity between the word and work of Christ: by His word, He performs His creative work of healing and raising to life those who have fallen into death. And so, to keep the words of the Savior, i.e., to be obedient to His commandments, is to enter into the descending and ascending movement of God’s love in which the world came to be, and in which we are healed of all our infirmities and diseases. To “believe in” Christ, then, is not an intellectual, theoretical work, because Christ is not theoretical. He is incarnate, He is concrete. He is a divine body. To “believe in” Christ is the work of our soul and body as well as our mind. It is a healing work, for we enter into the downward movement of God’s love for us and are healed of all our infirmities of soul and body. We are raised up in the upward movement of the crucified and risen Christ’s Glorious Ascension that unites earth to heaven and our humanity that has been healed of death to God so that we are glorified, deified, taken up in our union with Christ into heaven to become partakers of the glory and virtue of the divine nature in the Holy Spirit, the breath of life.
This human nature that is healed and made living, glorified and deified, this human nature is the bed of the paralytic that he was commanded to take up. Now we understand why he was commanded not to leave it behind but to take it up. It was the bed, our human nature, our body, our soul and mind, that Christ wants to heal; and not only to heal, but to glorify It by uniting it completely with the Father and the Spirit in the mystery of His Glorious Ascension. And so the work of Christ, which is accomplished in us as we keep His word, is the work of the healing of our soul and body; all our physical infirmities, all of our psychological disorders and complexes. It is the work that is accomplished in us as we enter into the spiritual movement of God’s divine love downward: the movement of humility in repentance, a downward movement that generates in us a spiritual movement upward, the movement of Christ’s Glorious Ascension, the movement of life and light in which the joy and love of God are made full in us. Brothers and sisters; here, I believe, is the beginning of an answer to the riddle of Christ’s Holy Ascension!
Most holy Theotokos, save us! Glory to Thy Ascension, O Lord! Christ is ascended! Truly, in Glory is He ascended! Glory to Jesus Christ!