After appearing to his disciples for 40 days post-resurrection, Jesus ascended to the Father in a final movement of exaltation that will not cease its upward thrust until the consummation of all ages and the final and awesome Judgment. In the ascension, Christ bears up our nail-marked humanity into the innermost depths of the immortal Trinity, lives forever to make intercession for us before the Father’s Face and draw all things to himself. He does this not for himself, but to open the way for all humanity to follow him into the House of the Father, where the great Feast has already begun.
Christ ascends, but after nine days his Spirit will descend to flood the earth, though this time not with a punishment unto death, but with a deluge of living waters flowing from his open side. Pentecost re-gathers humanity into the blood-stained Ark made of the Wood of the Cross and built by Christ, the new Noah.
The Ascension is, therefore, the completion of the Incarnation: God descended into the depths of hell to raise us up to the heights of heaven. In Christ, God’s abasement as a condemned slave opened the way for our liberation as freed sons and daughters of the Most High King. In his ascent, Christ a human heart forever beats at the side of the Father’s breast (cf. John 1:18). In the Spirit’s descent Jesus, with fiery passion, casts fire on the earth and empowers his newborn Mystical Body to follow him down into the gutters of Calcutta to establish a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.
This Spirit bears the Bridegoom to his fallen Bride, and fashions the Church into a divine-human tête-à-tête — a sacred tryst between Spirit and flesh, consummated in the sacramental Liturgy. Dare we speak thus of the Liturgy?
One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
— ah, the sheer grace! —
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.
O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.
Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.
When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.
I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies. — St. John of the Cross, “One Dark Night”
Let the Fire fall! Oremus: