Word Magazine May 1999 Page 13
GREAT IS THY LOVE, O MASTER
By Fr. Steven Rogers
Forty days after the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we come to that great feast day of the Church when, according to the hymnography of the Church, Christ “didst fulfill the mystery of Thy dispensation, Thou didst take Thy disciples and ascend the Mount of Olives; and behold, Thou didst pass through the firmament.”
After being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, after being born as a babe in the humble surroundings of a cave in Bethlehem, after living a life as a man with all its sufferings and temptation, after being mocked, spat upon, whipped and nailed to a cross, after dying, descending into Hell and being resurrected from the dead, Jesus Christ, on this feast day of the Ascension, returns into Heaven.
Though this feast marks a completion in one sense — the completion of Christ’s ministry on earth in bodily form — the greater significance and mystery of this feast is what takes place now that Christ’s time on earth is fulfilled.
Turning again to the hymnody of the feast, in Matins we hear, “having come down from Heaven unto the things of earth, O Christ, as God, with Thyself, Thou didst resurrect Adam’s form, which lay prostrate in the nether holds of Hades’ vault; in Thine Ascension to the heights Thou didst lead it up into the Heavens and Thou didst seat it upon the throne of Thy Father, sinceThou, the friend of man, art merciful.” In Matins we also hear, “The order of angels, O Savior, on beholding man’s nature going up together with Thee, were amazed and ceaselessly praised Thee.”
We are amazed by God’s love for us when we contemplate his willingness to condescend to be born as a man for our sakes. We are speechless when we consider God’s love for us when He was willingly crucified for our salvation. How wondrous the incarnation! How wondrous the cross! So great are these acts of love that the choirs of angels stand speechless and amazed.
It is in the celebration of the Ascension that the full enormity of God’s love for us becomes apparent. Why? Because when Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, He ascended as a man.
Christ’s sacrifice for us was not the taking on of human flesh temporarily. Christ in His love for us became man for all eternity! By taking on our flesh and returning to the Throne of God in that flesh, He has made it possible for us to one day ascend into Heaven where He is.
St. Paul tells St. Timothy, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and Man, the Man Christ Jesus” (I Timothy 2.5).
How great is God’s love for us? It is so great that He has willingly taken on our flesh for all eternity, that in that flesh He may serve as our Mediator and High Priest, interceding at the Throne of God on our behalf. In becoming man and ascending into heaven as a man, Christ has taken on the eternal sacrifice of being as we are, while remaining God. No longer are we cut off from Paradise, no longer are we citizens of earth; we are now citizens of heaven.
As we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord, let us join in this heavenly chorus of worship and praise:
“As the hosts of heaven saw Thee, our Savior, being taken up into the heights together with Thy body, they cried out, saying — Great is Thy love for man, O Master.”