The mystery of the Resurrection which we celebrated on Easter Sunday last, and its meaning for us in our own lives, can never be fully grasped. Celebrating the Ascension of Christ into heaven is part of the unpacking of the resurrection story, and this drives us towards Pentecost. Christ’s offer of new life and a new vision of reality includes the promise that we will follow where he has gone. Salvation in Christ embraces us in our full humanity.
The Ascension was not commemorated liturgically until the early fifth century. It was firmly lodged into the schema of the 50 days of Easter and the adaptation of the Lukan chronology of 40 days after the resurrection was secondary to it. From the middle ages onwards, Ascension had become an important marker within the Easter season, effectively dividing it into two and creating of Pentecost a separate ‘feast of the Holy Spirit’.
Much of the rich theology of today’s Feast in the Western liturgies comes from Leo the Great, and his theology informs the prayer texts used today. The second Collect importantly refers to ‘this day’: the liturgy makes the salvific event of the Mystery a reality for us today, and this already places us in eschatological present tense of God’s all-embracing outreach and not just simply a promise of what is to come. For Leo, the Ascension means that Christ’s human nature is now at the Father’s side: all that was assumed in Christ is now taken up with and by Christ who now sits at the right hand of God.
Canon Francis Brown