Sunday After the Ascension 2014

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, June 1, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Ambrose.

~

Gospel Reading: John 15:26-16:4

In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, our God is One. Amen.

Well, Christ is ascended! . . . Do you know from the very beginning, God’s intention was to create a unity between man and God? And the distance — ontological distance between the Creator and the created — is such a wide chasm, that there is nothing that man could do, that creation could do, in order to bring about that unity between the Creator and the created. Even if Adam had never sinned, even if Eden had been continuous and that the earth had been perfect and there had never been a fallen creation, there was still so great a chasm between the Creator and the created, that the purpose that God wanted to accomplish in that unity still could not have happened. The fall made it worse, but it was still such a great distance that there would still of had to have been some sort of way for God to take on created matter in order to bring that unity.

He would still have had to become flesh or some type of creation . . . and dwelt among us as He did, even if there had been no fall. The purpose of God and creation was to create unity between God and man. And this began — this unification process began — on March 25th. Every year we celebrate on March 25th, the Annunciation of Mary. Basically this is the moment when Jesus is conceived in the womb of a virgin, where the Incarnation takes place, for the taking of flesh occurred and it is Christs’ Incarnation where He brings the Divine Nature down to human nature, and He begins that unification process of God and man.

The problem is, because when we fell, creation did not recognize the Creator when He came down. John tells us in the first chapter of his Gospel that “His own received Him not.” We, mankind — His creation — did not receive Him. Because of our sin, we did not recognize Him as the Creator. In fact, in the Roman culture of the day, the Hebrews, the Israelites, were kind of the subculture. They weren’t seen as sophisticated, as great and grand as Roman citizens were. They were kind of this offset of the royal, the Roman empire, and they are kind of allowed to do their own thing. They did at least recognize their religion as valid just because it was historical. They gave them a little bit of props for that, but the Roman culture did not really look to the Hebrew people as a  very valid group of people. They were looked down upon. But even within the Hebrew culture, even in the Israelite culture, Jesus and His family was very much looked down upon.

When He arrived, they saw Jesus as poor. He was born in a manger. Even He when He was older, He said that He had no place to lay His head. He didn’t own a home. He was poor. He was also [considered] illegitimate. Since Joseph and Mary were not yet married, to the Israelites, to the Hebrews, this new baby is an illegitimate, bastard son. Thankfully, Joseph went ahead and married her and made her an honest woman, right? She could have been stoned for that. He could have too, had it been proven it was him. And so not only was He poor, but He was illegitimate and He was homely. Did you know that? Jesus was a homely little child. Everybody says they are cute because they are babies, but some babies are…Whew! Jesus was homely. In fact Isaiah tells us that “he came up like a root out of dry ground.” What’s that look like? Gnarled and dry, and that’s what Jesus looked like. And then he said that he had “no form, no comeliness, no beauty that we would even desire him.” And He was a no-account. Nathaniel says, “what good can come from Nazareth?”

He came from the wrong side of the tracks. He’s poor, He’s illegitimate, He’s homely and He’s a no-account. This is your Savior. Do you think Israel is going to notice Him? Do you think Rome is going to notice Him? When Jesus entered the world, He was the lowest of the low in Roman and Israel’s culture.

And interestingly enough, throughout His entire life, He experienced everything that we experienced. He’s like us in every way it says in Hebrews, except He was without sin. He was even tempted. Here’s the things that Jesus experienced. He experienced growth in the womb, birth — He experienced learning to walk, learning to talk, dirty diapers — Jesus had dirty diapers. Isn’t that weird to think about it? He experienced growing in knowledge. How is it possible that the second Person of the Holy Trinity was growing in knowledge? Well, He was a human too. He had to learn things. Knowledge and Wisdom. He attended Church or Synagogue just like we do. He experienced hard work and learned about labor, probably from His earthly father. Because He was part of the Israelite culture, He experienced fasting and feasting, and the cycles of the Liturgical year. He attended parties and weddings. He experienced friendship and love. But you know what else He experienced? But you know what else? He experienced betrayal. Have we ever? He experienced loneliness. He experienced temptation, and abuse even. He experienced ridicule and teasing, hunger and thirst, sickness and pain. He experienced the death of a parent. He experienced the death of a friend. He experienced beating and crucifixion. He experienced death and burial. And He experienced a descent into hell. Everything, everything, except for sin, He is like us in every way.

If at the Incarnation this begins the unity of God — the Divine Nature with the human nature — with man, it is Christs’ experiences in His life and in His death, joining the Divine Nature and the human nature in every condition, in every experience which continues that unification process of God and man. The Incarnation started it; His life experiences continued it.

And at the Resurrection which we celebrated exactly 43 days ago, Christ trampled down death by death, led captivity captive, took the keys of death and hell from Satan, and returned to life in a resurrected body to walk with His apostles and His disciples for another 40 days. And according to Luke in the book of Acts, these 40 days Jesus spent presenting Himself alive with infallible proofs. And He was talking about the Kingdom of God this entire time. And even after seeing everything that they had seen in the past three years walking with God, including His glorious resurrection, the disciples still didn’t understand everything, and they started asking the wrong questions. Do you know that on Palm Sunday, when they are waving the palm branches and they are shouting ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they are expecting this Messiah to come in and restore the kingdom of Israel, to take them out of the boot hill of Rome and make Israel God’s chosen people again on the earth? That’s what they expected. And yet five days later, when they realized that “this ain’t the guy that’s going to do that,” they killed Him. Forty days go by after His resurrection and the apostles say, “Will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?” They are still asking the same question that they asked Him before He was even crucified. They just don’t understand. Jesus is patient with them, and He answers them and says, “It’s not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.” And He changes the subject. . . .

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. I’m not going to tell you this other stuff. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” And just imagine this – walking with God for 3 years, hearing Him preach instead of me or Deacon or Father Michael — seeing miracles including that ultimate miracle of His resurrection — and still not understanding.

And you could say, “How could they be so daft?” They walked with God, and He’s preached to them for 3 years, and taught them everything, and they still don’t get it? Well, even experiencing all that they had this entire time walking with Jesus, the Holy Spirit had still not come upon them. And their eyes and their minds were not yet illuminated to the understanding of the Kingdom of God and what all that meant. They were present with God in Jesus, but God the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon them, and they had not been illuminated yet. And this is why Jesus told them that He actually had to leave them.

As a parent, have you ever told your kids, “Daddy has to go to work. Mommy has to go to work.” And the kids go, “Don’t leave! Stay with us.” And you say, “I have to go to work. I have to go make money. I have to make the money, so that I can pay the bills, so that we can keep this house, so that we can go to Holiday World, or so that we can go to Alabama, or we can . . .” And they’re going, “What? Just stay with me.”

It’s hard to explain sometimes as a parent what we have to do is responsibility. But we do it anyway, and we do it in love and try to explain, but basically – “Daddy’s gotta go. I love you and I’ll talk to you later.”

Jesus had to do the same thing. He’s telling them that He had to leave. They didn’t understand why. He tries to explain, but they still don’t get it. But He says that He’s gotta go anyway. The apostles are basically babies in the faith and in their understanding, so they don’t understand this. But Jesus says that He must leave, so that He can send the Holy Spirit to them.

And meanwhile, Jesus commanded them not to leave Jerusalem. “Stay here, wait for the promise of the Father.” And what He said was, “John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. So, chill. Hang on here in Jerusalem.” And then in Luke 24, (we keep going back and forth between Luke and Acts, but it’s written by the same guy, it’s just more of the story), we read,

“And He led them out as far as Bethany and He lifted up His hands and He blessed them. Now it came to pass while He blessed them that He was parted from them and carried up into Heaven”

So, three days ago on Thursday, we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension, and this is what happened. Deacon covered some of this on that day, but the Ascension is significant for several reasons here. Many times throughout Jesus’ life and the last 3 years especially, He would say that “This has to happen in order to fulfill prophecy . . . This has to happen in order to fulfill the Law . . . This has to happen in order to . . . “ And He just kept saying, “This is why I’m doing this. This is why I’m getting baptized. This is why . . . “ Everything had to happen for a reason. And the Ascension also had to happen to fulfill prophecy. The Psalmist says in Psalm 68, “You have ascended on high. You have led captivity captive and gave gifts to men . . .” spiritual gifts. The Psalmist is prophesying the ascension of Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit. That had to happen. Jesus had to ascend in order to fulfill that prophecy. So that’s the first significant thing of the Ascension.

Second one: St. Gregory of Nazianzus says, “Whatever has not been assumed has not been healed.” Here’s what this means. When Christ became Incarnate in the womb of Mary, He healed the womb of women. When Christ was baptized in the Jordan River, it was He that was cleansed the water. Anything that Christ experienced, He healed that experience. Anything that He did, He healed that particular experience. He healed it. My point here, and so is Gregory of Nazianzus, if God didn’t assume any certain thing, then that particular thing wasn’t healed. Because at the fall, everything fell, and so Christ had to assume every station. He starts at the low, and works Himself up. He’s poor, no-account, homely, [presumed] illegitimate. He had to start at the low and work His way up. He has to assume every aspect of humanity to heal it. And so Jesus had to experience every phase of humanity from birth to death: every human emotion, everything we talked about a few minutes ago, even the descent into hell and the ascension into Heaven, in order to heal every aspect of humanity from the bottom up. So he’s healing from the bottom, all the way to the top. He’s assuming these things. Paul says in Ephesians 4, “Now this in He ascended, what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth. He who descended is also the one who ascended far above the heavens that he might fill all things” . . . That’s what’s happening. So we needed the Ascension to complete that process, from Hades all the way back up to Heaven. That’s number two significance for the Ascension.

Number three: He had to complete the concept of worship from the top down to the bottom. Paul tells us in Philippians 2, Jesus is now worshiped from the top to the bottom. He says,

“Therefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every other name that at the Jesus, every knee should bow. Of those in Heaven, of those on the earth and of those under the earth. And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

The Ascension had to happen to fulfill prophecy, so that Christ could assume everything from the bottom to the top and heal it, and number 3, so that He could get worshiped from top to bottom.

And then the fourth one, the fourth reason that the Ascension had to happen, is if the Incarnation begins the unity of God and man, and all these life experiences continue the unification of God and man, His ascension completes it. His ascension completes the unification of God and man by bringing our human nature up into the Divine Kingdom. He brought Divine Nature to human nature, experienced everything, and then took that human nature back up to the Heavenly Kingdom.

That completes the unification of God and man, and now He reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit in His glorified body, in human flesh, to be worshiped – I think this is cool – even by the angels. In the Eastern rite, the Vespers service for Ascension, one of the hymns that they sing says that the angels were amazed to see a man so exalted. Isn’t that awesome? The angels are now worshiping God through Christ as a human being, human flesh in Heaven!

But when we read the Ascension in the book of Acts, we find that Jesus’ ascension was not the end. It was basically the beginning of the Church, a new beginning for the Apostles as well. On Sunday, a week from today, this is when we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. But something happened between the Ascension and Pentecost. We’ve got ten days in there. What happened during those ten days? The Bible is not silent on it. So what do the apostles and disciples do afterwards? Well, they just witnessed an amazing sight. Almost as miraculous as the Resurrection, was His Ascension. I mean, can you imagine standing there with your mouths open, while this man just levitates in front of you and starts going up, while He’s talking to you and blessing you, and then He’s taken from sight and disappears? How long would you stand there and stare and look at each other, like, “Did that just happen?”

Then you turn and look, and there are two men in white robes standing there with you. “Hello? Where did you come from?” Right? Probably angels. And they said,

“Why do you just stand there gazing up into Heaven? This same Jesus that was taken up from you into Heaven will so come in like manner as you saw Him leave.”

And so once again in this Gospel, Luke says that they worshiped Him, and they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. So the first thing after the Ascension, they stood there with their mouths open. The second thing is that they worshiped Him and returned back to Jerusalem with great joy. Jesus told them not to leave Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit arrived, and they were in Bethany, about a mile and a half from Jerusalem proper. And Bethany is where the Mount of Olives is. And that is the place from which Jesus ascended, on the Eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. And we find out later in Scripture that is the same place where He will return. According to this, He will come in the same way, He’s coming back to the Mount of Olives. So even though He was gone, they were still obedient to Jesus, and they returned to Jerusalem. They spent the next ten days between the upper room and the temple, praising God.

Acts 1 says that they were in the upper room in prayer in one accord. Luke 24 says that they were in the temple praising God every day. They are not contradicting; I think they were probably doing both. Same author saying it, so one particular day, Luke tells us in Acts that the remaining 11 apostles were all there in the upper room as well as Jesus’ mother Mary and some other women, and Jesus’ brothers and a whole bunch of other people. It says that they numbered about 120 people. That’s some upper room. That’s a big room. Peter stood in the midst of them all and said,

“Men, brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered with us and attained a part in this ministry. For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘let his dwelling place be desolate and no one live in it and let another take his office’ . . .”

Or, ‘let another take his apostolic bishopric.’ They took two names, they prayed for discernment, they cast their lots, and Mathias was added to the apostles that day, somewhere between the 10 days of the two feasts. This is something that I want you to notice. Although the Holy Spirit had not yet descended, Peter already knew some things. He knew that the Holy Spirit they were waiting for had not yet descended upon them, and yet he says that the Holy Spirit is already in the world. He says Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas. So Peter already knew the Holy Spirit was here. Do you remember . . . On Thursday, Dn. Joseph was talking about Jesus: while He was on earth, the second Person of the Trinity never left Heaven. He’s omnipresent. He never left anywhere. He didn’t leave Heaven. Well, guess what? The Holy Spirit is also omnipresent, and He was never not on earth. He’s been here. But there’s a difference between dwelling with us and dwelling within us. There’s a big difference between that. And this is what they were waiting for. They were waiting for the Holy Spirit to dwell in them. But even Peter knew that the Holy Spirit had dwelt near them or with them, since even the time of David.

The second thing Peter also noticed, is that Scripture pointed to Jesus and to themselves. Can you imagine opening the Bible and reading a passage . . .

“. . . Jesus did this, okay . . . He said, by the way, this thing that I just read to you, that’s me.”

The apostles do that too!

“Oh, this is about Judas . . .”

For centuries they had been reading in the temple these different Scriptures, and the apostles knew . . .

“This is about us! This about Judas. This about Jesus.”

They are reading Scripture, and they knew it was about them!

That’s amazing to me. It’s not like generalities . . . “Hey, we are the Church, and this Scripture is written about the Church.” No, this was specific. “Let another man take his office. Okay, well, we better go find somebody for it.” This was specific, not a general kind of thing, and Peter knew this.  The other thing that they realized is that the apostolic office, the bishopric of Judas – Judas Iscariot – needed to be replaced. And it needed to be by someone that had been with them continuously from when John the Baptist baptized Jesus, until the Ascension. So it wasn’t just the twelve that walked around with Jesus for 3 years. There were a lot of people that walked around with Him. One of those that had been chosen, Matthias, had to have been someone that had been with Him from the baptism all the way to the Ascension.

So for ten days, the faithful apostles, a lot of disciples, waited in prayer and worship. On the tenth day . . . You’re going to have to wait until next week to see what happens next . . . You’re going to have to wait until the tenth day. But Lord willing, Dn. Joseph will be preaching on that.

But here’s something interesting, and it’s important that the Ascension happened on the 40th day. It’s important that the Holy Spirit came on the 50th day. These are not random days. There is a reason for it. [Deacon Joseph,] I hope you’ll talk about it, because I’m building it up.

Now here’s the last piece. We know what happened in the ten days with the Apostles, what happened with Jesus during those ten days. Scripture is not silent on that either. To understand this, I’m going to give you some pieces to the puzzle and then we are going to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.

First piece of the puzzle, we have to go clear back to the beginning. . . . In Genesis 14, a mysterious character shows up. And he’s mentioned only in a three-verse section, and he’s only mentioned once in Genesis, and only mentioned twice in the Old Testament. He’s very important. His name is Melchizedek. The verse says,

“Then Melchizedek King of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was the high priest of God most High, and Melchizedek blessed Abram and said, ‘Blessed be Abram of God most High. Possessor of Heaven and earth and blessed be God most High who hath delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And Abram gave Melchizedek a tithe of all”.

That’s it. That’s all we hear. Some guy – the priest of God named Melchizedek – shows up, blesses Abram, and receives a tithe from Abram. That’s it. We don’t know anything else. What we do know is, Abram had Issac, had Jacob, had Joseph, and Jacob and Joseph had the twelve tribes of Israel. 500 years later we have Moses, and Moses’ brother is Aaron, and Aaron is the first priest of Israel. Right? No . . . Melchizedek is mentioned the first time there is a priest. He’s a priest of God, hundreds of years before everything that happened in Exodus. Puzzle number one – Melchizedek – who’s this guy?

Piece number two: In the book of Exodus – and I mentioned this last night as we did a study of the vestments – God called Moses up to the top of Mount Sinai. And for 40 days, He gives him a lot of stuff. First off, He gives him a chance to see God and live. He couldn’t see His face; he had to look at His backward parts. But he was able to see God and actually live. Moses got so close to God that his face glowed for a while. He was also given the 10 Commandments. God actually took two tablets and wrote with His finger on the tablets the 10 Commandments. Those were given to Moses. Moses was given instructions on the civil law, and on the moral law, on the Sabbath laws, on vestments like we talked about, and medical issues . . . things like that. But most amazingly, Moses was somehow mysteriously shown Heaven. He was shown Heaven. And he was shown the Heavenly temple where God is continually worshiped. It’s the temple not made by hands. And Moses, having seen this temple, was then given instructions on how to create a temporary tabernacle – which would eventually be the temple that Solomon builds – and how to replicate that Heavenly temple on earth. And God was specific with him. He gives him dimensions: the length of this, the height of that. He gives him specifications on which colors to use for this. “Use purple cloth here, use blue cloth here, and we want red here …” Which fabrics to use, which metals, which wood . . . God even gives requirements for the design and the form, and how it’s supposed to happen, because He’s copying – making a reasonable facsimile on earth – of the actual Heavenly temple that Moses saw. The point here I’m trying to say is, there is a temple in Heaven, a temple not made by hands. And a temple necessitates a priest. It just does. This is why Aaron and the Levites were needed in the tabernacle. They needed priests in there. Well, so does the temple in Heaven need a Priest? Okay?

Puzzle piece number three: Psalm 110, we read the words: “You are a Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” He is mentioned twice in the Old Testament: Abram and the blessing with the tithe, and the Psalmist says, “You are a Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Here’s this strange guy showing up again. So there’s a temple in Heaven. A temple necessitates a priest. And the Psalmist mentions a permanent priest, a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. This all starting to come together?

Last puzzle piece: Mark 16 says, and he’s speaking of the Ascension, “So then after the Lord had spoken to them”, (gave them a blessing) “He was received up into Heaven and sat down at the right Hand of God.” Jesus ascended and then He sat down. Now what does this mean? I just read to you from Psalm 110, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek”, but I’m going to read you the whole passage now:

“The Lord said to my Lord, sit at My right Hand till I make your enemies your footstool. The Lord shall send the rod of your strength out of Zion, rule in the midst of your enemies. The Lord has sworn and will not relent, You are a Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. The Lord is at your Right Hand.”

Who is the one that sits at Gods Right Hand, according to Mark? The one that just ascended, right?

So here we have all four pieces together: There’s a temple in Heaven which necessitates a Priest. Jesus – the ascender and the sitter from Psalm 110 and Mark 16 – is that Priest, not after the order of Aaron and the Levites, but after the order of Melchizedek. So what did Jesus do right after the Ascension in the period of ten days that we’re in right now between the two feasts? Here it is, and you’re going to get this if you read Hebrews. After the Ascension Paul says it in the first chapter of Hebrews that once Jesus purged our sins, He sat down at the Right Hand of the Majesty on High and was immediately worshiped by angels. Then Jesus went into the Heavenly temple which had been defiled by Satan during the rebellion a long time ago, and He cleansed it with His own blood. Paul talks about in Hebrews that if the earthly tabernacle needed to be cleansed by blood, how much more the real. If the replicas did, the pattern needed to be the moreso. These [earthly ones] could be done with the blood of bulls and goats;  this [heavenly] one had to be done with the pure spotless sacrifice. Jesus took His own blood and He cleansed the Heavenly temple as the Priest of Heaven. That’s what He did. And as High Priest in the Heavenly temple, He continually intercedes for us. That’s what Jesus did after the Ascension. He didn’t go up there and . . . “Whew! Glad that’s over!” . . . He did sit down at the Right Hand of the Father, and He immediately cleansed the temple with His own blood. And then from that point on, He continually intercedes for us in the temple to God.

And if I may, here’s your assignment for next week. Please, I encourage you to go home and read through the book of Hebrews. It’s rich with all of this stuff. All of this imagery will make sense if you sit down and read it. To me, Paul actually sounds giddy when he is writing this. It’s like he can hardly contain himself when he’s explaining how all this goes about. He is excited to explain that our risen Lord is God and Creator, but He’s also our High Priest who can sympathize with us in every weakness, and continually intercedes for us. If you have time, you could actually read the book in an hour, I’m guessing. There are 13 chapters. But if you do two chapters a day, then do it in a week.

So after the Ascension, we know what the apostles did now. After the Ascension we know what Jesus did. And we know the significance of the Ascension: that His Incarnation began the unification, His life continued the unification, and His Ascension completed the unification of God and man. We can now have unity with God. And He Ascended and sent the Holy Spirit ten days later, and He continues to intercede for us as High Priest.

Let us, like the apostles and disciples who obediently waited in the upper room . . . be obediently awaiting Pentecost a week from today, and faithfully await His return at the end of all this.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One. Amen.

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, June 1, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Ambrose.

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About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
This entry was posted in 2014 Homilies, Ascension Day, Orthodox Homilies, Other Homilies. Bookmark the permalink.

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