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The Ascension of the Lord

Risen, Ascended, Glorified

The 'Longer Ending' of St Mark's Gospel records three encounters with the Risen Christ. Firstly there is an encounter with Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She carries this news to those disciples who mourn and weep, but they fail to believe her. The next encounter is experienced by two disciples as they walk into the country, but once again the other disciples do not believe. The third encounter is with the Eleven, and here the Lord upbraids them for refusing to believe those who saw him after he had risen.

Thus we find in St Mark a threefold revelation of the Resurrection before a commissioning to ministry, followed by the Ascension of the Lord to sit at the right hand of the Father.

This revelation has happened in stages: first to one person, then to two, and finally to the whole company of the Eleven. These were the three moments of the ministry of the Risen Lord, as he reveals that in his shattering of death he has been glorified in soul and in body, and thus he is physically and bodily present to them.

St Thomas Aquinas points to two clear objectives of this ministry: to show the truth of the Resurrection and to manifest the glory of the Risen Lord. He appeared to them only sporadically; he did not return to living the same common life as before, since it was not the same kind of life to which he rose. He rises to a life of glory, and in these final acts of his personal ministry he shows forth that bodily glory.

This final act of revelation accomplished, the disciples are sent forth to preach this good news to the whole of creation. His personal earthly ministry has finished: this ministry now becomes the expression of the Church, His Body, to all the ends of the earth. The final act of his glorification is his being taken up into Heaven.

St Thomas asserts that it was Christ as man that ascended into Heaven. As God, there was nowhere to which he can or need ascend. It is his whole humanity, body and soul, that are glorified at the Ascension. His crucified and risen body shines with greater glory than any other body. It ranks highest in dignity. Here he takes his place, not only above all bodies, but above all spiritual creatures also:

God set him above all Principality, and Power, and Virtue, and Dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world but in that which is to come (Eph 1:21).

His Ascension prepares the way for our ascension, and it awakens us in faith, hope, charity and reverence.

It is only when he has ascended that the proclamation of the Gospel can commence. In his Ascension, the full truth of the Resurrection is shown forth. The glory of the Ascension prepares the way for the descent of the Holy Spirit, breathing living fire into the disciples. These men who have spent the previous forty days in fear and dread will soon spread out across the world, driven even to die for the mission entrusted to them. The Holy Spirit, he who is also called Lord, dwells in their hearts; and His presence is seen in their words, deeds and gatherings. He authenticates their work: 'the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it' (Mark 16:20).

It is our human nature which Christ shares and it is that same nature that is glorified at the Ascension. We are intimately connected to Christ and thus share in his glory. The completeness of this promised glory we do not yet know. But the Spirit of him breathes flames of life into our hearts and our souls that we may live now in joy, and share his message with all whom we meet in love and truth. We walk together in faith, hope and charity. We have seen the splendour of our Lord and Saviour: risen, ascended, glorified.

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