The following are notes from a class we did at St. Michael's on the 12 great feasts of the Church.
Ascension occurs 40 Days after Pascha; always on a Thursday
The ascension of Christ is his final physical departure from this world after the resurrection. It is the formal completion of his mission in this world as the Messianic Saviour. It is his glorious return to the Father who had sent him into the world to accomplish the work that he had given him to do (Jn 17:4-5). The following points are a list of several themes that come out in our celebration of the feast. These were drawn from the festal hymns and Scripture readings. The hymns below reference the service where they are found. V for Vespers, M for Matins, and L for liturgy.
1. A Promise of the Holy Spirit
V. The Lord has been taken up into heaven, that he may send the Advocate to the world.
V. Lord Christ, giver of life, as your Apostles saw you borne up on clouds, filled with lamentations of tears of dejection, grieving they said, ’Master, do not make us your servants orphans, whom through pity you have loved as you are compassionate; but, as you promised, send us your all-holy Spirit to guide our souls with light’.
L. You were taken up in glory, Christ our God, making your Disciples joyful by the promise of the Holy Spirit; through the blessing they were assured that you are the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world.
- This feast is the transition from Pascha to Pentecost. Therefore among the hymns of the feast we look forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit.
2. The Glorification of our Nature
V. Most sweet Jesu, not parted from the Father’s bosom and having lived among those on earth as man, to-day you have been taken up in glory from the mount of Olives, and having through compassion exalted our fallen nature, you have seated it with the Father.
V. O God, having renewed in yourself Adam’s nature, which had descended to the lower parts of the earth, you took it up to-day above every rule and authority; as you loved it, so you made it sit with you; as you had compassion on it, so You united it to Yourself; as united with it, so you suffered with it; as not subject to suffering, yet you suffered and glorified it with yourself. But the Bodiless powers were saying: Who is this man of beauty? Not man only, but both God and man, both together they appear. And so the astonished Angels flying in shining robes cried out to the Disciples: Men of Galilee, this Jesus who has gone from you as man and God, will come again as God-man, judge of living and dead, granting the faithful remission of sins and his great mercy.
M. The God before the ages and without beginning, having made divine the human nature that he had taken up, has been taken up to-day. Angels hastening forth showed him to the Apostles as he went into heaven with great glory; and worshipping him they said: Glory to God who has been taken up!
M. To-day, seeing our nature in the heavens, the Powers above, marvelling at the strange manner of the ascent,
M. O Christ, Giver of life, lover of humankind, you went up to the Father and exalted our race in your ineffable compassion.
M. Human nature, which had fallen by corruption, you raised up, O Christ, and by your ascension you exalted and glorified us with yourself.
M. Lifting up on your shoulders the nature which had been led astray, O Christ, you were taken up and brought it to God the Father.
-This is really at the heart of the feast as its concerns our salvation. The Holy Spirit could come and dwell in man permanently because Christ took our nature into the heavens and human nature was glorified at the right hand of the Father. Humanity could now truly become "partakers of the divine nature". The Ascension must be seen as an essential part of the salvation event.
3. The Promise of His Return
V. Your Angels, Lord, said to your Apostles: Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up to heaven: This is Christ God, who is taken up from you into heaven; he it is will come again in the same way that you have seen him going to heaven; serve him in holiness and justice.
M. therefore you await the final consummation, when you are coming on earth to judge the whole world.
M. Angels spoke to the Apostles as they watched: Men of Galilee, why are you amazed at the Assumption of Christ the Giver of life? He will come again to earth to judge the whole world, as most just Judge.
4. A Command to Evangelize
This comes from the Matins gospel in Mark 16:9-20. It seems to be obvious outgrowth of what has happened in the life of the Apostles. They have been given the promise of the fullness of salvation, and to hoard this way of salvation would be unthinkable.