The Reach of the Lord’s Mercies

From “Ascension Sermon Two, ‘How Christ Ascended Over the Heavens to Bring All Things to Fulfillment’” (ca. 1150)

On this feast matchless glory is conferred on Christ and special joy on us. This is the consummation and the fulfilment of the other liturgical feasts… “The one who descended is the very one who ascended” today “above all the heavens to bring all things to fulfilment.” … Lord Jesus, to complete your seamless garment, to bring the integrity of our faith to its wholeness, you, lord of the air, have only to ascend in open air, above all the heavens while your disciples look on. This will prove that you are lord of the universe, because you fulfilled everything in all things. Accordingly, now it shall be your due that at your name every knee shall bend, in heaven, on earth, and in the lower regions, and every tongue shall confess that you are in glory and at the Father’s right hand… This is why the apostles admonishes us to seek what is above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God…

Lord Jesus, who will console me? I did not see you handing on the cross, bruised by beatings, pallid in death; I did not suffer with you when you were crucified, or honor you in death, that at least I might wash the place of your wounds with my tears. Why did you leave me out of those farewells, on the day when, as the King of Glory, robed in majesty, you withdrew to the highest heavens? Admittedly, my soul would have refused consolation if angels had not come before me and with great rejoicing said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven?” “He will return,” they say, “in the same way.” Will he come to seek us in that procession, as unique as it is universal, when, preceded by all the angels and followed by every person, he descends to judge the living and the dead? Of course he will come, but in the way he ascended, and not as he earlier descended. For he came first in humility to save souls; but he will come in sublimity to raise dead bodies and remake them bright and glorious like his, so that the smaller and weaker the vessel, the more abundant the honor he may be seen to bestow…

In the meantime, he has been taken up to the right hand of the Father and now stands before God’s countenance on our behalf. He sits at God’s right hand, holding mercy in his own right hand, judgement in his left; immovably he holds water in his right hand and fire in his left. He has strengthened his mercy for those who fear him as “heaven is high above earth,” so that they can perceive the reach of the Lord’s mercies as greater than the distance between heaven and earth. For God’s design for them remains immutable and his mercy is “upon those who fear him from eternity to eternity. Likewise for the condemned, he is to be feared among the children of humanity. His utterance remains fixed for eternity, on the one side and on the other, among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was one of the most influential preachers and spiritual writers of the Middle Ages. An important leader in the Cistercian reform, he was abbot at Clairvaux and an important advisor to other church leaders. St. Bernard’s feast day is August 20. This translation is from Sermons for the Summer Season, B. M. Kinzle, trans. (Athens, OH: Cistercian, 1991).


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