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The word “ascension” means to move upward, to be lifted up.  In this case, the “ascension” refers to Jesus’ ascent as he was lifted up into heaven at the end of his earthly ministry in the midst of his followers. This event was commonly assumed to have occurred upon the Mount of Olives 40 days following Jesus’ resurrection after he had made many appearances to his followers.  It should be noted that the Ascension is one of the few affirmations we make about Jesus’ life in our ancient creeds. In the Nicene Creed, we proclaim that Jesus, “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” The Ascension has also been observed universally by the Church since at least the 4th century and it ushers the Church into Pentecost Sunday, when the Church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit.

One of the things about the liturgical year and worship, is that if one pays attention to the prayers and readings throughout the church year, one can learn and experience all the central teachings of the Christian faith. For instance, the liturgy of the Eucharistic prayer opens with a dialogue that begins with the words, “The Lord be with you… And  with your spirit.”  The prayer continues with the invitation to those gathered to “Lift up your hearts.” Clergy are taught in seminary to physically lift their arms and hands upward during this prayer  in order to convey tangibly and physically this sense of lifting up in a posture of supplication. The people then respond, “We lift them up to the Lord.” The sursum corda ends with giving thanks to God and the prayer then moves into retelling salvation history with worship and thanksgiving to God until the invitation to receive Communion.

The goal of this portion of the ancient liturgy is to participate in, essentially, an ascension of the heart, by intentionally and prayerfully lifting up our hearts to God in faith, love, and joy. From a spiritual standpoint, this is a moment to pause and bring our awareness into God’s presence. In that sense, we are called to ascend to God, just as Jesus ascended to God, by lifting up our hearts, our souls, and our deepest selves to God. In this way, our prayer reminds us that the Eucharist is not just about the fact that Jesus descended to the earth to come to us, nor did Jesus merely ascend into heaven, but that he ascended in order to draw us all to God because we too are called to ascend in heart, body, and mind to the Lord. In Christ, by faith through grace, we learn that ascension is a joint effort! In fact, not only is the Eucharistic celebration a joint effort of both descension and ascension, but our entire spiritual journey is a joint effort that involves God coming to us and our responding and coming to God, descending and ascending together, with God working in us and us working with God. In this way, heaven and earth are joined together for the work of God’s Kingdom.

When we follow Jesus and experience true ascension, there is a clear and gracious result. Luke’s Gospel account illustrates that result in our reading. Following Christ’s ascension, the text reveals that the disciples experienced three things: “worship,” “great joy,” and “blessing.” This is the same pattern of the Eucharistic prayer, and this is the pattern of the spiritual life. When we ascend and lift up our hearts to God, we too are filled with God’s life-giving, praise, worship, blessing, and joy!

Of course, we are called to ascend and lift our hearts to God not only on Sunday mornings or during the Eucharistic prayer, but continually and throughout our days. If we want to experience more joy in life, as well as praise and blessing, then we can lift up our hearts to God constantly in moments of ascension.

 Far from being an obscure event then, ascension can be a most practical reminder of how we might live out and practice our faith regularly, knowing that God has come to us and we have been called to come to God.

Jesus’ work on earth is now complete, but the task of bearing witness to Him and making disciples is never done, not until he returns at the end of time.  Clothed with the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Apostles and disciples of Jesus began to preach and teach about him to Jews and to Gentiles. They began to do what the Lord Jesus asked them to do: bear witness and make disciples. That task is not just theirs; it belongs to all of us.



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