One of the things I love to do is to be still, and think. This is hard for me as my vocation has always lent itself to things like frantic schedules, loud and lively conversations, and all kinds of domestic chores and activities, while attending to all the details of life for six people...besides myself. Silence is at a premium here, to say the least.
One of those "details of life", and the most important part of my motherly vocation, is to try to digest the fullness of the catechism and reiterate it in a way that my little disciples can understand. I want them to integrate it into their consciousness, feel it in their bones, so to speak. This is one of the reasons that I love to steal away for a few moments a day and try to lift myself up and ascend to meet the thoughts that God has waiting there for me. These inspirations can't fully exist down here, there is too much noise, too much activity, and it drowns out any lofty thought, Until I digest these thoughts myself, it is impossible for me to impart to my little saints, the understanding of the higher things that God has prepared for us all.
This ascension of the soul to meet God is inspired by the feast of the day. As we struggle through the sufferings of our day, we unite ourselves to Christ crucified and we suffer along with Him, giving meaning and purpose to our daily pains. Sometimes we even need to resign ourselves to the death of some pleasure or joy we desire to hold here in life, and we must place ourselves in the stillness and emptiness of the tomb with Him. When time passes and we overcome these sufferings, we may feel the happiness of newfound peace and resurrection of joy in our lives and we rejoice with Him. Then, when all this is done, we sit in stillness and lift ourselves up, discerning the higher meaning of it all, joining ourselves and all the details of our existence with the heavenly plan, ascending in mind and soul as Christ ascended in Body to the Eternal Father.
It amazes me to realize that this was an actual event in the history of our Church. My guardian angel was witness to it all. He saw the coming of a human body into the heavenly realm for the very first time when Christ ascended that day. Never before was a human being allowed there. Yet since we are the Church, the Body of Christ, we follow Him as the Head of that body. St.John Chrysostom, author of our Divine Liturgy, writes of this,
"Amazing! Look again, whither He has raised the Church. As though He were lifting it up by some engine, He has raised it up to a vast height, and set it on yonder throne; for where the Head is, there is the body also. There is no interval of separation between the Head and the body; for were there a separation, then would the one no longer be a body, nor would the other any longer be a Head. The whole race of men is to follow Christ, even in His ultimate exaltation, to follow in His train. Only then shall the Head be filled up, when the body is rendered perfect, when we are knit together and united,”
The events of the feast are wonderfully described in the canon of the pre-feast of the Ascension:
Ode 4: "Glory to Your holy ascension, O Lord! ...The armies of angels are struck with wonder to see that You bear the human nature, and lift up the clouds that You might ascend to the heavens. Seeing Your garments dyed with blood, O King of all, and hearing of Your ascension, the angelic powers worshiped with fear and joy."
And again from the canon of the feast, itself:
Ode 7: "having taken fallen human nature as a lost sheep upon your shoulders, You led it to your Father, O Lord, by Your divine ascension...You have again raised our human nature which had been put to death by sin, O God, our Savior, to present it to Our Father in heaven."
It is interesting to remember that before this day, no human was ever allowed to enter the heavenly presence of God, due to the sin of Adam. Those who died previously went to the "bosom of Abraham", a place of waiting without God. When Christ died, being fully human, He went there too, but being also fully God, His presence rendered it redundant. No one on earth witnessed the lifting of the dead from Hades that day, for they were not yet among the dead. By being lifted to heaven in his glorified human body, Christ gave us proof, and made it possible for us to hope to be lifted in the same way into the presence of the Heavenly Father! He also made it known to us by His messengers, the angels, that we could hope someday to be "swept up to meet Him in the air", as the epistle tells us, when He comes back again just as they saw him go.
Little ones have a hard time understanding the two natures of Christ, and that it is what makes all the rest of the theological doctrines fall into place. But they do understand better when they see things for themselves. I remember our catechism classes several years ago gathering on the steps of the church after Divine Liturgy on Ascension Thursday. The children were all so very excited because we had decided to give them a visual lesson to help them understand the essence of the feast by letting some helium filled balloons go, and watch them ascend up to the heavens just as Jesus ascended to His heavenly Father. We had tied a note onto the balloons, with a happy greeting from our ECF class, just in case it was found by a soul in need of a parish family...always evangelizing.
"Glory to your holy ascension, O Lord!"