The BCP

Ascension Day

Author: The Revd Dr Peter Toon

Collect

GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe thy only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

Collect Commentary

Forty days after he rose from the dead, the Lord Jesus visibly ascended into the cloud of glory, the Shekinah, the luminous cloud known in the Old Testament as the symbol of the immediate and localised Presence of YHWH, the LORD. Thus from the fourth century or so the Church has celebrated the 40th day after Easter Day as a major Feast Day, the Feast of the Ascension ( regrettably in modern times it has been transferred by some churches to the Sunday following for human convenience!). This Festival is the climax of the festivals of the Lord Jesus for it celebrates the conclusion of his presence on earth in a form that was visible and touchable and his exaltation to the right hand of the Father in glory to be the King of kings and Lord of lords & the Mediator, Prophet and Priest for his people.

This Collect begins with an intensity of petition with the use of two strong verbs, ìgrantî and ìbeseechî. And there is good reason for intensity of mind, emotion and will for what is being desired and asked for is nothing less than a translation of human focus from earth to heaven, from the physical world to the sphere where God is known perfectly and adored completely.

The petition itself is based upon the belief that Jesus Christ is not only risen from the dead but in his transformed, resurrected body, is exalted to the right hand of the Father, far ìaboveî all physical existence, where he is given all authority in heaven and on earth. It is also based upon the conviction, made very explicit in the Epistles of St Paul, that baptized Christian believers are not only acceptable to the Fatherthrough Christ (as Mediator) but that in Christ, that is as members of his Body, they rise and ascend with him so that in union with him by the Holy Ghost they are exalted into heaven. That is, in the reckoning of the Father, they belong with Christ in heaven for this is their true and final home.

Thus in this petition what is true objectively of Christ and his relation to his Body is made into a request to become a spiritual and moral experience for members of this Body in prayer, meditation and worship. Only after the general resurrection of the dead will Godís children know fully the experience of the joy of heavenly existence. Now they can enjoy the initial but significant taste of it in their union by the Holy Ghost with Christ exalted, as members of the Body of which he is the head.

 

Epistle Acts 1. 1-11

THE former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the Apostles whom he had chosen: to whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion, by many infallible proofs; being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: and, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven, as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.

 

Gospel Mark 16. 14-20

JESUS appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.