The Ascension is all about spiritual birth. Jesus takes humanity – his humanity and ours – and transforms it, elevates it, endows it with new spiritual life. As an ancient hymn puts it:
Yea, angels tremble when they see
How changed is our humanity;
That flesh hath purged what flesh had stained,
And God, the Flesh of God, hath reigned.
The Ascension of Christ proclaims and celebrates our spiritual destiny as sons and daughters of God by adoption and grace. We are born of the Spirit, and therefore we are spirit; and spirit cannot ultimately be bound by worldly ends and earthly limitations. By the comfort – the strengthening, transforming power – of the Holy Spirit of God, we are to be exalted “unto the same place where our Saviour Christ is gone before”. “Our conversation is in heaven”.
“Our conversation is in heaven,” and in the Church’s liturgy, we find ourselves engaged in precisely that conversation, “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven”. Here, in liturgy, all the arts conspire to solicit mind and heart, to wean the soul from worldliness. A door is opened into heaven.
In a secular age, such a liturgy as this perhaps seems anomalous, perhaps even an act of defiance. Well, so be it, and so it should be. This festival defies all our futile worldliness. Thank God for it. The Feast of the Ascension affirms, and our liturgy today affirms a destiny and a spiritual calling which can rest in nothing short of the infinite goodness and the truth and beauty which is the very life of God. We find ourselves on the threshold. Lift up your hearts! [Habemus ad dominum. ] “Our conversation is in heaven, whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our lowly body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.”
The morning shall awaken,
The shadows shall decay.
And each true-hearted servant
Shall shine as doth the day.
Then all the halls of Sion
For ay shall be complete,
And, in the Land of Beauty,
All things of beauty meet.
The Rev Dr Robert Crouse