On Thursday, Orthodox Christians and others will commemorate the Ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The Ascension, described in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 24:50-51) and in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:6-11), is always remembered on the sixth Thursday following Holy Pascha, or the Resurrection of Christ.
Many of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples are characterized by proofs of his being alive. He had his disciples touch his hands to reassure them that he wasn't some mere apparition. He ate and drank with them. He even went fishing with his disciples. And all of these things demonstrated that he was truly alive.
Further, Jesus used that time to instruct the apostles in the meaning of the Holy Scriptures (Luke 24:45); to give them the commission to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:29); to ordain them as his priests; and to prepare them for the reception of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
When he had done so, Christ took his apostles to Mount Olivet, blessed them, and ascended to heaven in "great power and glory."
Great feast: The Holy Orthodox Church has always considered the Ascension of Christ into heaven as one of the great feasts of the church. Like the Resurrection, Ascension furnishes us with another profound demonstration of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
The Ecumenical Council at Nicea in 325 A.D. elevated the Ascension to the status of a dogma of the Christian faith, and we profess that dogma in the Nicean Creed today as, "He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father."
Yet the Ascension represents more than a mere a transit from the world to the heavenly realm. Were that the case, we should be left forlorn and bereft of Christ and would wonder how the promise of Jesus to be with us until the end of the world could possibly make any sense. Instead, Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father and acts as a mediator and intercessor for us who believe. Just as he is the First Born of the dead through his glorious Resurrection, he is also the first to gather at the right hand of the Father in eternal life. Thus, his Ascension is both a fact and a promise of eternal life.
Christ as intercessor: The Letter to the Hebrews details how Christ carried his priesthood to the throne of the Father to act at all times in his intercessory role (Acts 7:1-28). No mortal priest could have overcome the death that falls to all mankind and continued in his capacity as one who offers sacrifices to the Lord for the people. But Christ, as the Eternal God, "is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (Acts 7:25).
Each of us then should rejoice at the glorious Ascension of Christ into heaven since our very salvation depends upon this ardent intercession before the Father. And as he ascended in power and glory, he shall return in the same way to carry all of us who believe to the Father to spend all of eternity with him. The Ascension of Christ into heaven is another spectacular aspect of the love of God for man.
May "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" as we commemorate the Ascension of Christ.
XRev. Deacon Williams E. Friedel is deacon at St. Michael Orthodox Church, Youngstown.