Friday, October 02, 2009

It's an ancient/future thing.

This week at Nashotah House, we have had our annual retreat. The leader for our retreat has been the Rt. Rev. Donald J. Parsons, Professor Emeritus of New Testament and former Dean and President of Nashotah House, who went on to serve as Bishop of Quincy from 1974-88. Now 87 years old, he is as active and as keen of mind as men 30 years his junior—and full of wisdom and wit. It is always a delight when Bishop Parsons is with us!

The theme of Bishop Parsons' retreat meditations was Christ's Ascension—the event that a few Christians actually go to church and celebrate on the Thursday before Pentecost Sunday, but that is overlooked and undervalued by many. The other night, Bishop Parsons talked about the significance of the Ascension—how it demonstrates the reality of Christ's Incarnation. If God entered the world by taking on flesh in the Incarnation, and if he was crucified, died, was buried, and rose again on the third day; then, unless he was to begin his earthly reign at that point, his earthly existence had to have an end. And that end was his Ascension back to heaven, where he sits at the right hand of the Father.

Of course some, including certain liberal bishops, have mocked the idea of a literal Ascension, just as they disparage the necessity of a bodily Resurrection. One such bishop has gone so far as to say that, if Jesus went up into the sky, and even if he traveled at the speed of light, then he would still have a long way to go even to leave our galaxy, so he can't be in heaven (wherever that is.)

But if Jesus was going to return to the Father in heaven, how should he have gone? Should he have simply disappeared? No, that might have signified that he was an illusion or a ghost? Should he have gone down into the earth? What would that have signified to those who were present? No, he ascends, which his disciples would have known signified going to a higher, better place. Similarly, in saying that Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father, the aim isn't to tell us about the arrangement of the furniture in heaven; it is to tell us that Jesus, who has ascended, now reigns with the Father's favor and authority.

The Ascension demonstrates the reality and the physicality of the Resurrection. If Jesus' body still remained in a tomb outside Jerusalem, then the Resurrection is merely a metaphor for the immortality of the soul. But if Jesus rose bodily then he had to ascend if he was to leave this world. But, of course, Christ did ascend and 10 days later sends the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower his Church.

Sitting there listening to Bishop Parsons' meditation, I had a sense of what it must have been like to listen to the Apostle Paul teach one of the New Testament churches about the meaning of Christ's Ascension for the very first time. It was a blessed moment. It transcended time and space. And during that moment it didn't matter whether we were in the first century or the twenty-first century—we were simply Christians.

We're doing a new/old thing—an ancient/future thing—at Nashotah House. It is called Christianity. And it feels great!
"Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.
Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."
(Hebrews 13:7-8)


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thnaks for an excellent post. It has been clear to me for many years that one distinguishing Orthodox doctrine and practice is whether or not one takes the feast of the Ascension seriously. I suspect the present trend not to celebrate this feast on the day but on the following Sunday, or to otherwise minimize it, is because too many folks have ceased to believe the tomb was empty.