Homily for the Feast of the Ascension of Christ
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christ is Ascended!
I greet you all on this warm and radiant feast of the Ascension of the Lord into heaven. In addition to the Tropar (Apolytikion) of the feast, the other recurring words that we hear are these: "God has gone up in jubilation; the Lord with the voice of a trumpet!" It comes from Psalm 46: 7 in the Septuagint. The Greek word for "jubilation" is ἀλαλαγμῷ. It means a triumphant cheer, or a joyous shout. Simply translating it "shout" is really inadequate. It is the same kind of jubilant cheer and the same kind of trumpet blast that God used to send the walls of Jericho tumbling down to earth. So who is doing all this "jubilating" as the Lord ascended into heaven? The disciples? Of course the disciples, but their joy was somewhat mixed with confusion and no small amount of terror.
I remember way back on October 17,1989, the great Loma Prieta earthquake struck. Everyone who was here remembers where they were and what they were doing. I was at Candlestick Park, waiting for Game Three of the World Series. When the earthquake struck, the stadium shook back and forth, violently, like some terrifying amusement park ride. It seemed go on forever. The sound of the quake itself was like a deep roar, but the sound coming from the fans was nothing - dead silence. Once the shaking ceased, there was silence, and then an explosive cheer went up from all 50,000 fans. It was a cheer of relief and deliverance from terror; and cheer of joy, and a cheer of hope - hope that the game would begin. It was not to be, however. We were all sent home to discover what horrors and what chaos resulted from this cataclysmic event. I bring up this story, because the cheering of the disciples was mixed too. In the beginning of this morning's Gospel we heard that they were terrified and frightened at the appearance of the resurrected Christ. Doubtful thoughts were entering into their hearts. The Lord had to reassure them that it was truly He. And doubtless they were somewhat traumatized again when the Lord suddenly ascended into heaven, leaving them once again bereft of His presence. But the Lord did console them. He was true to His word that He would rise from the dead in three days, now they had to trust Him again when He says to them: "Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high." So they went back to Jerusalem filled with great hope and great joy.
But who were the pure "jubilators?" Who were the ones who shouted, or cheered, with fullness of confidence, fullness of joy? It was the holy angels. They were present and they participated in Christ's Ascension. How do we know this? This morning's Gospel told us: "Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven." Who carried Him up into heaven? The angels did. The angels were nearly bursting with joy, because God was coming "home." God Who had taken our form, the Lord Jesus Christ, was coming "home." Brethren, we don't really notice it, but if we pay attention we'll see that the angels are present at every major event of Christ's life. It was an angel who announced the incarnation to the Virgin. When Christ was born, angels filled the sky with their glorious voices singing "Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men!" It was angels who warned the Magi not to go back to Herod after they visited the newborn Christ. It was angels who directed Joseph to take Mary into Egypt, and not to return to Nazareth until after the death of Herod. It was an angel who came to minister to Christ after He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. It was an angel who strengthened Jesus during His agony in the garden of Gethsemane. It was angels who were at the tomb from which Christ had risen and who instructed the myrrh - bearing women to tell the disciples that Christ was risen. And it was angels who carried Christ into the cloud and back to His rightful place in heaven. But that's not all! It was also two angels, who appeared to the disciples as they were still looking up into the sky after Jesus had ascended. St. Luke, in Acts 1:11, tells that these two angels spoke to the disciples and said, "You men of Galilee, why are you still standing here and gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which has been taken up from you into heaven, shall also come back again in the same way as you have seen him go into heaven." This is, of course, a great consolation to them, contributing greatly to their joy as they walked back into the Holy City. And of course we know that when Jesus returns for us again, He will come accompanied by two things: The Image of the Cross, and His Holy Angels. How do we know this? In St Matthew's Gospel the Lord Himself says it: "At that time (i.e. the Second Coming) the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.…" (Matthew 24: 30-31).
Who are these tribes who will be mourning? They are the people who viciously and tenaciously chose and choose to hate Christ and Christians. They will weep because they know that their judgement is coming, but we will rejoice because our salvation and eternal life is coming. And those angels who come to find us, what will they be doing, shouting and cheering with great jubilation. Why? Because they see that we get to come "home" too! Glory to God! Amen.