By Martin Nchedo Umeatuegbu
I go up to HeavenOne of the Doctors of the Church, St Anselm of Canterbury, is famous for his words, ”I do not seek to understand in order to believe. Rather I believe in order to understand, for in believing I have come to understand that if I do not believe, I will not understand”.
Every forty days after Easter Sunday is one of those days the above words of the magnificent doctor, St Anselm of Canterbury, are re-echoed. And why? It is because we celebrate the second Glorious Mystery – that Christ ascended into Heaven and seated at the Right Hand of the Father, as we profess in the Creed.
Let us make a practical hiatus at this juncture, and reflect deeply on these words of the Creed, imagining ourselves to experience such at the second coming of the Lord. It is to be borne in mind that Ascension is 40 Days after Jesus’ Resurrection and 10 Days before the Pentecost.
For better understanding of this subject, we shall divide this reflection into two parts: the first shall focus on the meaning of Christ’s Ascension into Heaven; and the second we shall consider what it means that Christ seats at the Right Hand of the Eternal Father.
Christ’s Ascension into Heaven
The Gospel accounts that forty days after He had risen and appeared to His Apostles and other followers in various places, the Lord in their presence, after promising to send the Holy Spirit, was raised up and He departed from them in a glorious way [Matt 28:16-20; Mark 16:19; Luke 24:50]. This departure was into a place that is not bound by the physical and universal laws of time and space – a place that is Divine, that is Supernatural, and that is eternal.
This is where we call Heaven. In being raised up, Christ meant to say to us “makarioi adelphoi mou, anabaino tou ourano” (My blessed brethren, I go up to Heaven). By a way of interrogation we can ask Him, “What do you mean Master?”, and He will answer, “I came from there and I am returning to where I come from”. This means that by nature, Christ is God.
By His Incarnation, He condescended from Heaven down to earth and appeared in human form. After His Resurrection, having stayed for a while on earth, He ascends into Heaven. Thus, this is a great mystery for, in the One Person of Christ, He is who by His Incarnation is “ho anthropos tou Theou” (the Man of God) is by His Ascension to prove that He is “ho Theos tou anthropou” (The God of man).
Therefore, what happens is that the fullness of humanity and Divinity was joined together. In ascending into Heaven, a marriage occurred between Heaven and earth, for after delivering His farewell to those on earth, He receives a welcome address by His Eternal Father.
This marriage shows that Christ’s departure from earth and entry into Heaven is what we shall experience. Thus, in ascending into Heaven, Christ means that He is going up to reunite with His Father, and gives us hope that since He shared in our humanity while on earth, we shall participate in His Divinity when we arrive Heaven.
Christ’s Seating at the Right Hand of the Father
The point raised in the above consideration provokes the latter in the form of question: “When Christ ascended into Heaven, what was He doing?” The answer to this is that, as Mark provides in his afore-cited Gospel, Christ seated at the Father’s Right Hand. This is what we profess in the Creed, that Christ ascended into Heaven and seated at the Right Hand of the Father.
If Spirit is devoid of body and if God is Spirit, and if the Eternal Father is God, then He is Spirit. And if Spirit is devoid of body, how then do we say that Christ sits at the Father’s Right Hand since to say such implies that He has a hand? What does it mean to say that Jesus is seated at His Right Hand? The answer to this question was given by the Greek Church Father, St John Damascene. According to him, the expression, ‘Right Hand’ is a human language the Church uses to express the authority of God. [cf. _De Fide Orthodoxa_, 4, 2].
Thus, for Jesus to seat at God’s Right means that He has gone back to assume His equality with Him, for in the beginning, Jesus the Word existed not just only with God, but as God [cf. Jn 1:1]. This is what makes His Ascension complete. Therefore, Jesus is God. His Ascension proves this. This was even demonstrated more by the Eternal truth that He sits in union with His Father, interceding for us as our Mediator (see Mark 16:19; Heb 10:11-14).
The Ascension of the Lord is just an event that took place, both in Divine and human histories, but rather, a mystery that gives a confirmation about our immortality. In going back to Heaven, the Lord encourages us that earth is not our home, but that Heaven is our true home.
Therefore, if He came down from Heaven to become man, suffer, die, resurrected, and afterwards ascended to His Father, He tells us that He has completed every process of being human, and that the return to His Father is to secure the place of us humans in the abode of God.
This, means that in our earthly struggles, we should be mindful of eternal life and the importance of Heaven should be borne in mind, for if one is to die in a state of grave sin bereft of the grace of God, instead of ascending into Heaven with and like Christ, one descends into Hell forever.
Let Christ’s triumph enlighten and convince us that for every Easter, there must be a Good Friday. This is a message of Hope which is personified in the ascended Lord.
By Your Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven, Jesus deliver us!
I dedicate this Reflection to my beloved lecturer, Mr Peniel Imonikhe Momoh
Martin Nchedo Umeatuegbu writes from Onitsha, Anambra State