Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into heaven, so we may also in heart and mind there ascend, and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect for Ascension, BCP 226)
Last Thursday we celebrated the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Ascension Day, or Holy Thursday probably isn’t as well celebrated as it has been in the past. But it is important. Be it in three days or forty, the Resurrected Jesus leaves us, but he doesn’t abandon us. He must return to his Father to finish his task, to act as our intercessor, as when we invoke his name in prayer, and to send the Holy Spirit to all the world
Yesterday we heard part of Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, those whom he loved (Jn 17:6-19). The Ascension is the fulfillment of the High Priestly Prayer, and the Prayer is for the promise given at the Ascension. Addressing his Father, Jesus begins, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world,” and he goes on to say that he has taught them everything he received from his Father. Jesus is leaving the world, leaving those who have faithfully abided in him, as he has abided in them. As he abided in the Father. He is the bond, the bridge, the river of living water between fallen humankind and the Creator who made us. We tend to not take the fall of Adam seriously, because there are those who want to use that to deny our natural evolution. But spiritually the fall is real, and Jesus is the new Adam. It is real in that we are flawed creatures, given to turning our backs on our God and each other.
The gifts we received in the Incarnation, the teaching and healing of Jesus, the Passion, Crucifixion, Resurrection don’t stop there, but are fulfilled in the ascended Christ. It is in this priestly prayer in John that we can see the enormity of Christ’s gift.
Jesus is asking his Father to not only grant us forgiveness of sin, total forgiveness, eternal life, and the gift of the Cross, but that we be lifted up, ascended. And he is asking that his own, first the Apostles and disciples around him, but then all of us that will come after, that we be sanctified. Hallowed, the same word we use in the Lord’s Prayer. We are a sanctified people. We can’t be un-sanctified anymore than we can be un-redeemed, removed from the Shepherd’s flock, our name struck off of the Book of Life. What we can do it turn from these gifts, gifts of such inestimable grace as to overwhelm the mind. We can take ourselves to Hell, not in fire and brimstone and the profane images of a Hieronymus Bosch, but in silence, faceless, nameless loveless forever, a forever denied the love of God, the love of the Christ who remade the world and remade us. And so, Jesus is asking his Father to protect his own, as Jesus did in his life with us. Now that he is leaving, he prays, “because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
We do not belong to the world. Yes, we are incarnate as much as was the Christ among us. And we now tend focus on that embodied humanity. But we are more than that. We are a risen and sanctified people. As Paul tells us, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Col 3:1). In our living, our lives in faith, we can be lukewarm. We can be turned toward the world with all its glamour (and remember, the word glamour actually means a spell to seduce and bind). But we can also walk that narrow path between our human selves and our ascended selves, beloved, but free to make mistakes, in the certain knowledge that the Ascension and the Priestly Prayer granted by the Father hold the promise of glory. We are in the world, but do not belong to the world. We are marked with eternity. We will be among the saints.
Jesus prays, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (Jn 17:22-23).” I sometimes find it hard to untangle the language of relationship in John’s narrative, and this great prayer is no exception. In short, Jesus is assuring us that the bond of abiding love among ourselves, with himself as the Christ, both God and human, and with the Father is unbreakable. Our fallen sinful selves are so precious that we are raised, and that is now secured as Jesus ascends to his Father, to be our advocate and judge, our brother and Lord, our Savior and God. And we are protected by the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, whom we will celebrate next Sunday, and every day of our lives.
We are almost at the end of Easter with Pentecost next Sunday. Then Trinity Sunday begins the long green season of Sundays after Pentecost. But that is also a time when we can cheerfully forget Advent, Christmas, Lent, Eastertide, Ascension, Pentecost, and the fasting, feasting, study, and prayer of those special seasons. Yet, it is a good time to remember all we have learned from Christ’s abundance so we can let it grow in the quiet soils of Spring, Summer, and Harvest. So that next year, and every year to come, we will know the Holy One more deeply, and love him more reverently, bringing the lessons he taught on earth to the people of the world. And we, young and old, can continue to prepare ourselves for that which we all must suffer, our earthly death, and, in the fullness of time, our rise in Glory, our ascent to be with our Lord God, to sing with the heavenly host, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord. God of Power and Might, Heaven and earth are full of your Glory, Hosanna in the Highest.” Will we ascend? You bet we will. That is a promise.
Dr. Dana Kramer-Rolls is a parishioner at All Souls Parish, Episcopal, Berkeley, California and earned her master’s degree and PhD from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.