‘The Ascension’, by Nicholas Champness

The Ascension, by Pietro Perugino

From the Editor: A very blessed and a happy Feast of the Ascension from everyone here at the Newman!

‘As they watched, he was lifted up, and a cloud removed him from their sight into heaven. Alleluia.’

Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension. Christ is no longer among us but is instead with the Father in heaven. Where then, does this leave us earth-dwelling Christians, what are we to do?

We, as ever in the Christian life, find ourselves in the position of the disciples. We can but imagine the awe and astonishment Our Lord’s followers would have felt, let alone the loneliness. After his Resurrection, He was only with them for forty days before he ascended to the right hand of the Father (Acts 1:3). The disciples must have been thrown back into the loneliness and abandonment, which they had presumably one just started to overcome after the Resurrection. We may expect them to mourn and mope around, discontent with their master, as he seems to leave them repeatedly. Yet they do not. Instead, according to today’s Gospel, they “worshipped him and then went back to Jerusalem full of joy; and they were continually in the Temple praising God”. In short, the disciples seem to do the exact opposite of what we might expect them to do when faced with the prospect of never seeing their master again, at least in this life. Why is this?

In a sermon written for today’s Feast, St Augustine advises us to “let our hearts ascend with him”. Indeed, he cites St Paul in Colossians, quoting “If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth”. This spirit is embodied by the disciples. They do not seek comfort in worldly things but rather in what is not of this world, namely what is to be found in the Temple. Christ is no longer to be found walking amongst us, He is to be found in the Tabernacle, in the Temple. In the Tabernacle, we encounter something of heaven on earth.

The Ascension highlights Christ’s absence from the world. He is no longer here; He has ascended in glory to His eternal throne. However, He has not left totally. He is present in every single tabernacle – body and blood, soul and divinity. Through the Eucharist, Our Lord leaves his disciples, and in turn us, with the greatest gift imaginable. God humbled himself by taking on human form, St Augustine describes the Incarnation as being motivated by God’s “compassion” for mankind. The Ascension when viewed on its own may be seen as uncompassionate, however, St Augustine reminds us that we are invited, as St Paul notes, to ascend to be at one with God through grace. Being the ‘source and summit of the Christian life’ as Lumen Gentium describes it, the Eucharist is the most grace-abundant of all the Sacraments and the one by which we are most united with God through His son, Jesus Christ.

The Ascension, through highlighting Our Lord’s absence in human form, invites us to reconsider the Eucharist and to see its power afresh. A taste of heaven on earth – Our Lord shrouded, yet truly present.

Nicholas Champness, BA German, St John’s