Ascension Day: A Collect Reflection
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Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into heaven, so we may also in heart and mind there ascend, and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Some Collect Housekeeping
However, I need to point out that the ACNA has recently (January 2018) updated the collect for Ascension Day to the following:
Almighty God, whose only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven: May our hearts and minds also there ascend, and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. ###
Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that the new collect keeps the same basic content as the previous one. Both trace their heritage back, as it were, at least to the collect for Ascension Day in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which reads:
GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe thy only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
Jesus Christ Ascended into Heaven
The main thing that the collects for Ascension Day proclaim to be true about God is that his only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, has ascended into heaven.
The first Scripture lesson for Ascension Day is Acts 1:1-11:
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
The Gospel Lesson for Ascension Day is Luke 24:44-53:
Jesus said to his disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you– that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
As we regularly confess in the words of the Nicene Creed, Jesus “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.”
As Christians, we worship a Crucified, Risen, and Ascended Lord.
We Pray that We Too May Ascend and Dwell with Christ
As we await the return of Jesus Christ, “to judge the living and the dead,” we pray each year on Ascension Day that “we may also in heart and mind there ascend, and with him continually dwell.”
But wait, if our prayer is answered, won’t it result in Christians being “so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good”?
Put simply: No.
The goal of the gospel, of God’s redemptive mission, is to bring heaven and earth back together again, as it were. In the words of Ephesians 1:10, God’s goal is “to gather up all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth.”
Just as the Crucifixion reminds us, as it were, that Jesus Christ is Lord even of the lowest depths of earth, the Ascension reminds us that Jesus Christ is Lord even of the highest heights of heaven.
So, there’s no good gospel reason for “heavenly-mindedness” and “earthly good” to be opposed to each other!
And yet, because this world in which we live is still affected and infected by sin, there is an opposition, or at least a tension, that we all have to deal with. As Christians, we have been set free from sin’s power. But we’re still waiting to be set free from sin’s presence.
Therefore, in the meantime, as we await Christ’s return, we need to have our hearts and our minds united to our Ascended Lord, if we are to “be [his] witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Lift Up Your Hearts
When does this Ascension prayer get answered? When do we get to ascend and continually dwell with Jesus?
On the one hand, it will be finally and fully answered when Christ returns, judges the living and the dead, and makes all things new.
On the other hand, this prayer gets regularly answered now, whenever Christians gather together at the Lord’s Table for Holy Communion.
This is (an interpretation of) the meaning behind the portion of the Eucharistic liturgy known as the sursum corda (Latin: “lifted hearts”):
- Priest: The Lord be with you
- People: and also with you.
- Priest: Lift up your hearts.
- People: We lift them to the Lord.
- Priest: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
- People: It is right to give him thanks and praise.
In a very important sense, Jesus Christ comes to meet us, where we are, in Holy Communion.
In another very important sense, we come to meet Jesus Christ, where he is, seated at the Father’s right hand, in Holy Communion.
Then, we go from the Lord’s Table, in his name, to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations.
May we be so heavenly minded, that we are of such earthly good.
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