Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Days Before the Ascension

Sermon by Saint Leo the Great

“Beloved, the days which passed between the Lord’s resurrection and his ascension were by no means uneventful; during them great sacramental mysteries were eventful; during them great sacramental mysteries were confirmed, great truths revealed. In those days the fear of death with all its horrors was taken away, and the immortality of both body and soul affirmed. It was then that the Lord breathed on all his apostles and filled them with the Holy Spirit; and after giving the keys of the kingdom to blessed Peter, whom he had chosen and set above all the others, he entrusted him with the care of his flock.

“During these days the Lord joined two of his disciples as their companion on the road, and by chiding them for their timidity and hesitant fears he swept away all the clouds of our uncertainty. Their lukewarm hearts were fired by the light of faith and began to burn within them as the Lord opened up the Scriptures. And as they shared their meal with him, their eyes were opened in the breaking of bread, opened far more happily to the sight of their own glorified humanity than were the eyes of our first parents to the shame of their sin.

“Throughout the whole period between the resurrection and ascension, God’s providence was at work to inset this one truth before their eyes, that our Lord Jesus Christ, who was truly born, truly suffered and truly died, blessed apostles together with all the others had been intimidated by the catastrophe of the cross, and their faith in the resurrection had been uncertain; but now they were so strengthened by the evident truth that when their Lord ascended into heaven, far from feeling any sadness, they were filled with great joy.

“Indeed that blessed company had a great and inexpressible cause for joy when it saw man’s nature rising above the dignity of the whole heavenly creation, above the ranks of angels, above the exalted status of archangels. Nor would there be any limit to its upward course until humanity was admitted to a seat at the right hand of the eternal Father, to be enthroned at last in the glory of him to whose nature it was wedded in the person of the Son.

Guardini on “the mysterious lingering on earth after the Resurrection” and the Ascension.

“It might be asked: Why this mysterious lingering on earth after the Resurrection? Why didn’t the Lord return home directly? What was happening during those forty days?

“Let us for a moment suppose that the Resurrection and the period afterwards had been only offshoots of morbid religious experience, legend or myth – what would those days have looked like? Doubtless, they would have been filled with demonstrations of the liberated one’s power; the hunted one, now omnipotent, would have shattered his enemies; he would have blazed from temple altars, would have covered his followers with honors, and in these and other ways, have fulfilled the longings of the oppressed. He would also have initiated the disciples into the wonderful mysteries of heaven, would have revealed the future, the beginning and end of all things. But nothing of all this occurs. No mysteries are revealed; no one is initiated into the secrets of the unknown. Not one miracle, save that of Christ’s own transfigured existence and the wonderful fish-catch which is only a repetition of an earlier event. What does happen? Something completely unspectacular, exquisitely still: the past is confirmed. The reality of the life that has been crosses over into eternity. These days are the period of that transition.

“And we need them for our faith; particularly when we evoke the great images of the eternal Christ throning at his Father’s right, coming upon the clouds to judge the living and the dead, ruling the Church and the souls of the faithful growing from the depths of God-summoned humanity ‘…to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4, 13). Such images place us in danger of losing the earthly figure of the Lord. This must not happen. Everything depends on the eternal Christ’s remaining also Jesus of Nazareth, who walks among us until the day when all things will be enfolded in eternity; on the blending of borderless spirit with the here and now of the process of salvation. In the Christ of the Apocalypse one vision holds this fast: the Lamb standing ‘as if slain’ but alive (Apoc. 5, 6; 1, 18). Earthly destiny entered into eternity. Once and forever, death has become lasting life. But there is a danger that this truth dangle in space, enigmatic as a rune on an ancient stone. This period of transition deciphers the rune, gives us the key to the parable: All that has been remains in eternal form. Every word Jesus ever spoke, every event during his lifetime is fixed in unchangeing reality, then and now and forever. He who is seated on the throne contains the past transfigured to eternal present.”

[1] Romano Guardini, “The Lord,” Henry Regnery Co. (1954) 420-422.

No comments: