The early Christian community which produced the gospel according to Luke clearly viewed the Lord’s ascension as an integral part of the resurrection story (Luke 24: 1-53). This understanding, expressed liturgically from the end of the second century, continues to our own time, as Ascension Day falls within the 50-day Easter season. Liturgical celebrations of events in the life of our Lord most likely had their beginnings as commemorations of this Christian “primal age.” Very quickly, however, they came to be imbued with meaning which spoke to people’s present situation. An early Ascension Day collect, in fact, goes like this: “Grant . . . that, believing Thine only begotten, our Redeemer, to have ascended to heaven on this day, we, too, may spiritually dwell in heavenly places.”
So here we are with this Sunday’s readings. We’re well into the Easter season, the result of the events of Good Friday. “Rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings,” we ‘re taught in 1 Peter (4:13), for thereby we now share in Christ’s resurrection. As the disciples looked on, we ‘re told in Acts (1:9), the risen Christ “was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” As a result, we ourselves are enabled, even now, to dwell “spiritually . . . in heavenly places.” Finally, the ascended Lord shows his primal unity with the Father. And its implication for us today? That all Christians need now to be one, even as the Son and the Father are now obviously one (John 17:11).
Inter-church conversations, of course, take place today among any number of denominational leaders. But think about it — denominational leaders are the only folks who have a vested interest in Christ’s body staying divided. In a sense then, the ecumenism for which the Ascension begs is what has to happen in spite of current church authorities. Only the laity, it appears, has the leverage to be faithful in this way to the ascended Lord.
Look it Up
What role might the Beatitudes play in our striving for Christian unity?
Think About It
What decisions of our churches have served to foster Christian unity? Which seem to hinder ecumenism?