[Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, I occasionally post selections from a two-year lectionary for the Divine Office that draws mostly from patristic writings. The lectionary was initially edited by Stephen Mark Holmes (University of Edinburgh School of Divinity) and subsequently re-edited and formatted by Michele Freyhauf (Durham University). Click here for the link to the lectionary. When there are lacunae in the Durham edition, I draw from R. M. Healey’s edition. Click here for the link to his formatting of the lectionary.]
Patristic Lectionary – 13 May 2021 – Ascension of the Lord
St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 4:1-24
Ascending on High, He Led Captivity Captive
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended”, what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.
Now this I affirm and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart; they have become callous and have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practise every kind of uncleanness. You did not so learn Christ! – assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus. Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
In epistolam Johannis (On the First Epistle of St. John) 10.9 (Sources Chrétiennes 75:432-436)
At his ascension into heaven on the fortieth day, our Lord Jesus Christ commended to the world the body in which he would remain here below. He did this because he saw that many people would honour him on account of his ascension, but that such honour would be worthless if they were trampling on his members on earth. He wished to forestall the error of worshipping him as head in heaven and at the same time trampling on his feet on earth, and so he indicated where his members were to be found.
As he was about to ascend, he spoke the last words he was to utter on earth. At the moment of going up to heaven, the head commended to our care the members he was leaving on earth, and so departed. No longer will you find Christ speaking on earth; in the future he will speak from heaven. Why will he speak from heaven? Because his members are being trampled underfoot on earth. He spoke to Saul the persecutor from above, saying: ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? I have ascended to heaven, but I still remain on the earth. Here at the Father’s right hand I sit, but there I still hunger and thirst and am without shelter’.
In what way, then, did Christ commend to us the body he was leaving on earth at the moment of his ascension?
When his disciples asked him: Lord, has the time come for you to reveal yourself, and when will the kingdom be restored to Israel? his parting words were: It is not for you to know that time which the Father has reserved to his own authority, but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses. Observe the area his body is to cover, mark the places where he is loath to be trampled underfoot: ‘You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in the whole of Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. That is where I remain on earth even when I ascend to heaven. I ascend because I am the head; my body still remains.’ Where is it? Everywhere, to the ends of the earth. Take care not to strike it or violate it or trample it underfoot. These are Christ’s last words at the moment of his departure for heaven.
My friends, you have Christian hearts. Think, then; if the words of one who is on the way to the grave are so sweet, so precious, so important to his heirs, what must the last words of Christ mean to his heirs as he departs, not for the grave but for heaven! When a person has lived and died his soul is borne away to another place while his body is laid in the ground. Whether his last request is carried out or not, it matters little to him now. He has other things to do or suffer. His corpse lies in the grave, feeling nothing. And yet his dying wishes are carefully obeyed! If that is so, what will be the lot of those who fail to observe the parting words of the one who is seated in heaven and who looks down to see whether they are flouted or not – the words of him who said: Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? and who reserves for the Day of Judgement all that he sees his members suffer?