Ascension of Christ

What tickles me about the resurrection and ascension of Christ is the blatantly supernatural element of it all. “Come now,” the modernists say in their measured and rational tones, “must we believe that it was necessarily a crudely physical phenomenon? Surely the resurrection and ascension stories are beautiful tales told so that the dead Lord’s disciples might believe that their friend had spiritually risen and ascended…that his beautiful teachings somehow survived his physical death and that they would, as it were, remain enthroned forever in glory.”

This modernist teaching is gnosticism–a religion that is all spiritual truths and ethereal ideals, and the fruit of gnosticism is that the physical realm doesn’t matter. What really matters is the spiritual realm. The result of thinking that the physical realm doesn’t matter is that people therefore do whatever they like in the physical realm. They may respond (according to their personality type) with decadence or detachment. The may become either a connoisseur or a consumer. It doesn’t really matter–either way they don’t really believe that their response to the physical world makes a bit of difference eternally.

Belief in the physical resurrection and ascension, on the other hand, reminds us every moment that what we do with the physical world has everlasting repercussions. What I do with my body affects the state of my soul. What I do with my possessions affects my everlasting destiny. What I do with the world’s resources impacts my spiritual life. If I believe in the Virgin Birth, the Incarnation, the Resurrection and the Ascension, then this created world matters. Matter matters.

In this I rejoice, for if Christ is lifted up, he will lift up the whole of the created order to share in his redemption…and that means me too along with this funny, rubbery, deaf, hairy-in-the-wrong- places, increasingly pear-shaped, lustful, gluttonous, body of mine.
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  • We had the physicality of the Resurrection come up last week in 6th grade Religious Ed. One way we dealt with it was by looking at Jesus after the Resurrection: if Jesus, freed from sin & death, could appear in locked rooms, then vanish, be unrecognized by his closest friends, be confused with a gardener, did not want to be touched on at least one occasion, but inviting Thomas’ probing later, then the Ascension is not such an odd event, but rather a reasonable conclusion to the 40 days.

  • Dali?

  • Yup. Hello Dali

  • “Belief in the physical resurrection and ascension, on the other hand, reminds us every moment that what we do with the physical world has everlasting repercussions.”These are my favourite kinds of posts from you. The Feast of the Ascension is, for reasons of having been a certain period of truth and conversion for me, one of my favourite feasts. True belief in the Ascension causes a certain upheaval in our perception of time – suddenly like those 2000 years seem like a snapshot; and we are in a kind of “overtime”. And the Christ that is with us, in the Eucharist, has been the same all through those 2000 plus years.

  • Yes, the doctrine of the Ascension is so blatantly supernatural that it strains scientific reason. But it is also so blatantly natural that it strains our theology sometimes. I like your post and all, and I’m all with you saying, RIGHT ON, the modernists’ doctrine is no better than any dusted-off form of neo-Gnosticism: I know Whom I have believed and I better reject this thinly disguised heresy. Even so, I am frequently distressed to try to understand the wider repercussions of the physicality of the resurrection and ascension of Christ, from this very orthodox theological point of view of saying, yes, He rose bodily and ascended bodily to be seated “at the right hand of the Father,” and I affirm that this was an event of cosmic, incarnate reality, — but then, I ask, where precisely is Christ at this moment? We like to say that He is “seated at the right hand of the father” — just where is that now? The Catholic Catechism has an interesting teaching here: that “Christ’s Ascension marks the definitive entrance of Jesus’ humanity into God’s heavenly domain, whence he will come again (cf. Acts 1:11); this humanity in the meantime hides him from the eyes of men (cf. Col 3:3).” (para. 665). The interesting part, to me, is that the CCC seems to be teaching that He is hidden BY VIRTUE OF of (not despite) his humanity. That’s a strange one, isn’t it? I mean, if Jesus had risen and ascended only as spirit (as the modernists might allow), then it’s easy to understand how He could seemingly be hiding. But the fact that, as we affirm, He rose again and ascended as a man, and so THEREFORE (?!) that means he is hidden from the eyes of men — Man, that’s NOT easy to understand! Again, where is He hiding?

  • Liz

    After being treated to an ambiguous homily on the Feast of the Ascension and an exercise in “creative” liturgy yesterday, this piece is like a cold glass of water to a thirsty person. Thanks Father Dwight

  • Fr – I’ve been listening to ‘The Dumb Ox’ by Chesterton via audiobooks on my morning commute. I see a lot of resonance with Thomism and a certain resistance to nihilist modernism, at least as Chesterton describes it, and which you allude to resisting here in pondering the ascension. One wonders if Nihilism and Communism function together as sort of twin evils of militant anti-theism in this regard.But the really complicated thing is as Jonathan alludes – where did he go? Into the clouds? Up? Ascending into the sky? ‘Men of Nazareth why are you looking into the sky’? If it is important that Christ was corporeal and physically ascended then he must have gone somewhere physical. But perhaps it is all more complicated than that. Surely this is a question that has been pondered for 1,975 years or so.

  • Yes, what we do in the body matters. We will be resurrected in the body–glorified and perfected, hallelujah!A lot of Christians have fallen to a post-Cartesian dualism, or an ancient pre-Christian Greek mind/body split, or a Manichean gnosticism, seeing the world and the body as evil. Some err too much on the side of angelism, as if they’re already in the perfected resurrected body; others, into accepting bodily sins blithely because they’re saved (OSAS therefore it doesn’t matter what I do) or have exercised the fundamental option. They abuse St Augustine’s quote, Love God and do what you will. If you really love God, you will resist sin heroically because you abhor it! But that quote is used to justify laxity.The world is good/very good, God says so in Gen 1-2. It’s wounded and fallen, but God never took that evaluation back.The body is good. It is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and it is created and ensouled and maintained in being by God. It is heretical to declare the body evil.It would be good to practice some mortification to tame that lust and gluttony. I will recommend this gently because a finger is pointing right back at me for loving my food a little bit too much. Thanks be to God, the learning curve, aging, chemotherapy, tamoxifen, and the early menopause chemo/tamoxifen caused, have taken care of the lust part. Sweet, sweet freedom!”Their god is the belly.” (Phil 3:19)”Are there any men left, or only bellies?” (St. Josemaria Escriva)Fornicators, adulterers, catamites, sodomites, the greedy (among others) will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. 1 Cor 6:9-10I evangelized my bff with fornicators will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, and it changed her life. The moment was ripe and she was ready to hear it. Sin its own punishment and you can really kick a person when they’re down. (LOL) That’s a joke, it was done lovingly and gently. Admonish the sinner is a spiritual work of mercy but mercy requires love and compassion. It’s not the same thing as Fred Phelps’ group with protest lines of “God Hates Fags” signs at soldiers’ funerals. Um, clanging gongs and clashing cymbals! In all things, love.

  • Sorry, that should read ancient Greek (pre-Christian) soul-body split. The mind-body split is more Cartesian.