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Sermon for the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord

For forty days after His Resurrection our Lord Jesus Christ was with His disciples, teaching them “the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven” and preparing the for the acceptance of the Divine grace. For forty days we glorified the Risen Christ and today we glorify the Ascension of the Lord, the end of His mission on earth. At the same time it is His farewell to His disciples. Having broken the bonds of death and risen from the dead the Saviour of the world stayed on earth for forty more days. He appeared to His disciples assuring them in their glorious Resurrection. The very number forty is full with deep meaning. On the 40th day after his Birth from Virgin Mary Christ as the first-born was brought to the temple. After His resurrection from the dead, which was His second birth, also after forty days He ascends into the Heavenly temple as the Saviour of humanity. He became “the firstborn of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:20), offering Himself as a holy and pure sacrifice. Departing from His disciples He told them in the farewell conversation: “again, I leave the world, and go to the Father” (John 16:28). After His Resurrection He appeared to Mary Magdalene and told her: “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (John 20:17).

Sermon for the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord
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The earthly feat of the Son of God has ended. He fulfilled the deed which was entrusted to Him by His Heavenly Father. And now He must enter his glory which He had when the world was not yet created. He performed everything for which He was sent by the Father. Having conquered death, the Risen Lord could not stay on earth in the midst of corruption. The Lord who cared about His beloved disciples continued to teach them to understand the Holy Scripture and told them about the Kingdom of God during His appearances to them until His Ascension. He told them about His power in heaven and on earth. He told them that they are chosen to preach to all peoples the good news about the Resurrection, to forgive sins, to baptise and teach everything which he commanded. Christ prepared His disciples for their great apostolic mission entrusting to them the completion of His deed.

During one of His appearances to the disciples the Lord told them to gather in Jerusalem. When the disciples assembled together, the Lord mysteriously appeared to them. He explained to them, why it was necessary to suffer and die for people and called them for preaching. After this he comforted them in their sorrow about separation with Him and told them that the Father promised to send them the Comforter – the Holy Spirit. He commanded them to wait in Jerusalem until they receive power from above. Conversing with them He led them from the city and went to Bethany. There, on the top of the Mount of Olives He stopped and blessed the Apostles. In front of the amazed disciples He started to raise to the heaven, higher and higher, distancing from them. Suddenly two bright Angels appeared before them and told them: “Why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven”. Angels told the disciples that the Lord will return to the earth in the same unexpected and solemn way as He departed.

After these words the Apostles worshiped the Ascended Lord with awe and, as it is written, “with great joy” returned to Jerusalem and stayed in the temple. They rejoiced in the glory of their Teacher, for in the Ascension they once and for all became convinced that He is truly God, Master of heaven and earth. His Ascension  was the triumph of God’s righteousness. It manifested the glory of the One who was crucified but then risen, who conquered evil and death, of the Saviour, who destroyed the hell and opened the gates of the paradise.

They also rejoiced because the Lord promised them that He will return to the world in glory in the same way as He ascended. It will be the end of human history, the end of the history of the world’s salvation.

The Mother of God was among the witnesses of the Ascension. It is mentioned in the church service and depicted on the icon of the feast. The Mother of God suffered most of all, seeing the torment of Her Son on the cross, but now She rejoiced most of all, seeing His glory.

The feast of Ascension is not only the commemoration of the event, which happened 2000 years ago. This feast has the significance for the people of all times and bears a deep dogmatic meaning. Christ was God and man at the same time. When He ascended into heaven and sat at the right hand of God, He raised our human nature into heaven and man started to participate in the Divine mansions, where there is our real life. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil.3:20; NASB), as the Apostle says.

We, Christians, are a part of His body. If we have the light of his meekness, love, humility, compassion to the neighbours, then we are participants in His life. The Church is the body of Christ, and to the extant in which we participate in the Church, we are close to heaven in this earthly life. At their farewell the Lord commanded his disciples to stay in the temple, praising God, until they receive power from above, that is the grace of the Holy Spirit. And if we stay in the God’s temple more often, “having our hearts towards heaven”, we will also be able to receive this power. The Lord told us: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt.18:20). And when we assemble in the church, God is present here, in the Holy Mysteries. But if we, after receiving so many goods from the Lord, who did not spare His own life for our salvation, who carried our weaknesses and sins, are lazy to go to church, if we don’t confess our sins, observe the Lents, it will mean that we are indifferent to the Lord, that we somehow reject God.

The Lord commanded His disciples to be one with each other, He overshadowed them with the grace of the Holy Spirit, connected them with the union of love, preached the good news of peace to them. “Peace to you” – this was His greeting when He came to the disciples after the Resurrection. He commanded to have peace in relation to God, fulfilling His commandments, and peace in relation to each other, which is born out of the fulfillment of the Gospel teachings. This commandment – to have peace – the Lord left to His disciples, when He said: “And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house” (Lk.10:5).

According to the great Divine plan of salvation of the human race Christ had to ascend in that very flesh, which was accepted by Him at His Incarnation. After He became the Intercessor between God and people and ascended, He showed His sinless body, wounded by our sin, to the Father. Jesus offered His body as a pure and immaculate sacrifice on the Cross to propitiate the Father for our sins. Prophet Isaiah says that Christ took our weaknesses upon Himself, upon His shoulders, and that by His bruises we are being healed (Is. 53). The risen Christ appeared to His disciples and allowed them to touch His wounds. He called upon Apostle Thomas to experience the reality and the depth of His wounds with which His hands, feet and ribs were covered. And after he ascended to the Throne of Glory in heaven and sat t the right hand of God the Father, Christ still carries upon His human flesh the wounds, which were inflicted upon Him by human sin, by the sins of each of us. Until the end of the world He carries upon Himself all sorrow of earth, all pain and horror of human sins. Christ did not drop it all off at Resurrection and Ascension, but remained the God’s Lamb, who sacrifices himself for the salvation of each one of us from the creation of the world until His second coming.

On the day of the Pentecost God the Father sends the Holy Spirit upon the intercession of the Son to the whole Church, called to be His body. We, undeserving and sinful, become participants in this priceless gift, for we are Christ’s. We are ineffably united with Him, we are the members of His Church. Christ said: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die.” (John 12:32-33).

Although our Divine Teacher ascended from earth to heaven, He did not left us orphans. As Elijah the Tishbite when he was taken to heaven on the fire chariot, in order to comfort his disciple Elisha, left him his mantle, so the Lord left the garment of His Divinity to comfort us – His Holy Spirit and His Divine flesh in the Mystery of the Holy Communion, to remain with us inseparably. He said: “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Mt.28:20).

Therefore, preparing for the approaching feast of the Pentecost, with all craving of our weak soul we should in prayer call upon the Lord to come and grant us the gift of the Holy Spirit. Let us devoutly call upon the Comforter: “Come and settle in us!” – with all love to Him, all humility, thanking Him that even living in sin, sinful and having little faith – are so loved by Him. Let us be grateful to the Father that He sends us His promise – the Holy Spirit, and the indestructible bond of love and peace. Let us entreat our Lord Jesus Christ so that He, who “ascended into the heaven, from where He had descended”, would not leave us, but make us participants in the Divine grace, through the Mystery of confession and forgiving of sins, through the communion of the Most Pure Body and Blood, through the hope to always be participants of His ineffable and unending Glory and contemplation of His Divine Face!