THis day was Christs perfect triumph over the Devil, Leading captivity captive, Ephes. 4. 8. This day He opened the kingdom of Heaven to all believers, as we say daily in the Te Deum. See S. John 3. 13. Acts 2. 24. Heb. 10. 23. His flesh opened that passage, in that he deserved to enter there first: For when he was taken up on high, then he opened the Gates of Heaven Chrysost. upon that place of the Hebrews. Therefore the Church appoints for this day the 24. Psalm. Lift up your heads O ye gates, and be ye lift up ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in. This day gives us hopes of Heaven, in that our flesh in the first-fruits is thither ascended. For if God had not intended some great good to our nature, he would not have received the first-fruits up on high: Christ taking the first-fruits of our nature, this day carried it up to God, and by those first-fruits, hath made the whole stock to be sanctified. And the Father highly esteemed the gift, both for the worthiness of him that offered it up, and for the purity of the offering, so as to receive it with his own hands, and to set it at his right hand. To what Nature was it that God said, Sit thou on my right hand? To the same, to which formerly he had said, dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return. This gift went far beyond the loss; Paradise was the place from which we fell; but we were this day carried up to heaven, and mansions are there provided for us, Chrys. in diem. Christ ascended up into heaven in the sight of his Disciples, that they and we might assuredly believe, that we should follow, and not deem it impossible for us body and soul, to be translated thither; Cypr. in diem.
This day hath proper Lessons and Psalms.
The First Lesson at Morning Service is Deut. 10. Wherein is recorded Moses going up into the Mount to receive the Law from God, to deliver it to the Jews, a type of Christs ascension into Heaven to send down the new Law, the Law of Faith: For when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men, Apostles, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers, to publish the new Law to the world, Ephes. 4. 8.
The First Lesson at Even. is 2 Kings 2. Wherein Elias his ascending into Heaven was a type of Christs Ascension, but Christ went far beyond his type in many particulars. Elias went up with a single Chariot, but Christ was attended with thousands, Psal. 68. 17. The Chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of Angels, and the Lord ascending is among them. Elias upon his ascension doubles his Spirit upon Elisha; But Christ gave such an abundance of the holy Spirit to his Disciples upon his Ascension, that they not only were filled with it themselves, but it ran over upon others from them, by laying on of hands they imparted it to others, Acts 8. 17.
We have no proper Second Lessons appointed; but in Edw. 6. Liturgy were appointed, S. John 14. Ephes. 4. both very fit for the day.
Psalms for the Morn. are 8. 15. 21. Psalms.
The 8. Psal. begins, O Lord our Governour how excellent is thy name in all the world, thou that has set thy glory above the heavens. This was fulfilled this day. For this day he set his glory above the Heavens, ascending from earthly humility to heavenly glory. This made thy Name wonderful in all the world: For hereby it appears, that thou that didst before descend so low, and wert for a time so vile reputed, art greater than all Principalities and Powers in Heaven and Earth; since some saw, and all men now believe, that thou didst ascend into Heaven, whereby thou hast gotten A name above all names, That at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, both of things in Heaven, and earth, Phil. 2. 9, 10.
Psal. 15. Who shall dwell in thy Tabernacle, or who shall rest upon thy holy hill? even he that hath clean hands, &c. shews both how just it was that Christ should ascend and rest upon the holy Hill, the highest Heaven, of which Mount Sion was a type: for he of all others had clean hands and a pure heart, and withal tells us the way which we must walk, viz. the way of righteousness and holiness, if we desire to follow Christ to heaven.
The 21. Psal. is to be understood of Christ. S. Aug. in loc, Ver. 4. Thou gavest him a long life, even for ever and ever, his honour is great in thy salvation.
The raising him from death, hath made his honour great, and all the world to believe in him. Glory and great worship shalt thou lay upon him, by setting him at thy right hand in Heaven.
The rest of the Psalm is to the same purpose, of Christs absolute triumph over his enemies, which was this day fulfilled, when he led captivity captive.
The Even. Psalms are 24. 68. 108. Psalms.
The 24. was sung this day at Christs Ascension, by a Quire of Angels, some going before the Lord Christ, knocking, as it were, at Heaven gates, and singing, Lift up your heads O ye gates, and be ye lift up ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in: to whom other Angels in Heaven, desirous to know, who this King of glory was, sing the next words, Who is the King of glory? The first Angels, that waited upon our Lord in his Ascension answer, The Lord strong and mighty, even the Lord mighty in battel, as ye may see by the prisoners that he leads captive in his triumph. Therefore Lift up your heads, O ye gates, that never were yet opened to humane nature, where never man yet entred, S. John 3. 13. Acts 2. 24. Heb. 10. 20. The other Angels as yet, as it were, amazed at the glory of the triumph, ask again, Who is the King of glory? what Lord is it that is so mighty? His heavenly Guard answer again, The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory; Theodor. in Psal. Then Heaven gates were opened, and our dear Lord entred, and took possession for us, and prepared places for us S. John 14. 2.
The 68. Psal. at the 18. ver. is by the Apostle applyed to the Ascension of Christ, Ephes. 4. 8. Thou hast ascended up on high, and led captivity captive. It is not to be denied, but that it may be applyed to others also, (for the Scripture is full of sense,) as to Moses. For he from the bottom of the Red Sea, went up to the top of Sinai, leading with him the people of Israel, that long had been captive to Pharaoh: and there received gifts, the Law, the Priesthood, but above all, the Ark of the Covenant to be the pledge of Gods presence amongst them: this is the literal sense.
This of Moses, by analogy, doth King David apply to himself, to his going up to mount Sion, and carrying up the Ark thither. For all agree, this Psalm was set upon that occasion. The very beginning of it (Let God arise,) shews as much; the acclamation ever to be used at the Arks removing, Num. 10. 35. This was done immediately upon his conquest of the Iohnsites, whom he had taken captives, what time for the honour of the solemnity, he dealt gifts, bread and wine to the people, 1 Chron. 15. But in the prophetical sense, this Psalm belongs to Christ, to the Testimony of Jesus, which is the Spirit of all prophesie, Rev. 19. 10. For that was the greatest captivity that ever was led captive; his the highest up-going, higher than Sion or Sinai far: that the most gracious and glorious triumph, when Christ made a shew of Principalities and Powers of Hell, triumphing over them in his own person, Col. 2. 19. which was this days triumph. Bishop Andrews Serm 7. in Pentecost.
In the 108. Psal. The Prophet awakes himself and his Instruments of Musick, to give thanks to God among the people, and among the Nations, for setting himself above the heavens, and his glory above all the earth, which was most litterally fulfilled in his Ascension into Heaven, and sitting down at the right hand of God. It is true, this Psalm is thought to be set upon another occasion, viz. Gods promise of subduing the Ammonites and Idumeans under David, for which, he here vowes his best thanks: yet for all this, it may be, and that principally, meant of Christ and his triumphant Ascension. For God Almighty did so direct the mind of the Prophets, that, that which was spoken by them of other persons and actions, is oft-times more exactly fulfilled in and by Christ. Osee 11. 1. Out of Egypt have I called my Son, was there spoken of the deliverance of the people of Israel out of Egypt, fulfilled in Christ, S. Matth, 2. 15. What David sayes of himself, I will open my mouth in a payable, was fulfilled by Christ, S. Matth. 13. 35. The 72. Psalm was written for Solomon, as the title shews, but more exactly fulfilled of Christ. Davids complaint or his own misery, Psal. 35. 19. verified in Christ. S. John 15 25. Nay more, (which is worth our observation) some things David speaks of himself, which do not agree to him, but in a figure, which agree to Christ in the letter; as, They parted my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture, Psalm 22. 17, 18. Nay, in the same Psalm, (and sometimes in the same verse) some words will not agree to Christ, as Psal. 69. 5. My faults are not hid from thee: These cannot be spoken of Christ who knew no sin. Some words again most properly belong to Christ, as verse 22. They gave me gall to eat, and when I was thirsty, they gave me vinegar to drink.
Thus holy Church hath in the Lessons and Gospel preached to us the Ascension of Christ, in the type and antitype. In the Epistle she teaches us our duty not to stand gazing up to Heaven, wondring at the strangeness of the sight, but to take heed to demean our selves so, as that we may with comfort behold him at his second coming, his coming to judgment, Act. 1. 11. Why stand ye gazing up into heaven? there is other business to be done, fit your selves for another coming, for this same Jesus which was taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, even as ye have seen him go into heaven.
In the Collect we are taught to pray, that we, as far as may be, may conform to our Lord in his Ascension, that like as we believe him to have ascended into the Heavens, so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell. In the special Psal. and Hymn we adore and bless God for our Saviours glorious Ascension. It is pleasant to behold the rare beauty of the Churches offices, as on others, so on this day, how each part suits the other.
The Gospel to the Lessons, the Epistle to the Gospel, the Collect and Psalms and Hymns, all fitted to the same, and all to the day.
For the Antiquity of this day, See S. Aug. Epist. 118. cited upon Easter day, Epiphan. and Chrys. upon the day.
This is called Expectation-week; for now the Apostles were earnestly expecting the fulfilling of that promise of our Lord. If I go away I will send the Comforter to you, S. John 16. 7.
The Epistle exhorts to earnest prayer. for the Comforter promised in the Gospel; which the Church performs in the Collect.
THis day the HOLY GHOST came down from heaven upon his Church, as the Epistle tells; according to the promise of the Gospel.
As in a long war it happens; when the war is ended, and peace concluded, Pledges and Hostages are mutually sent, both as tokens of, and securities for, the mutual agreement and peace: so was it betwixt God and Man. After our Lord Jesus had ended the long war betwixt God and Man, and finished the reconciliation, he sent up, or rather he carried up himself, our Hostage, our flesh and nature ennobled by the union with his Divine Person, as a royal pledge to his Father: on the other side, God sent this day his royal Hostage, his holy Spirit, a security for our future peace. 1. S. John 4. 12, 13. Chrys. Hom. 1. in Pentecost. Edit. Savil. tom. 5. The Devil had taken us captive, our Lord Christ undertakes the quarrel, his death was his battel, but then he seem'd to be overcome: but up he got again at his Resurrection; that was his victory; his Ascension was his triumph: and as the ancient custome was for Conquerours to scatter gifts amongst the beholders, especially on the last and great day of the triumph: so does our Lord, in this last day of the Feast, the Conclusion of his triumph, he doth, as it were, make the Conduits run with Wine; he poured out his Spirit so upon all flesh, that some mockers said, they were full of new wine, Acts 2. 12. He casts abroad his new wine, new gifts and graces of the world, giving to some the word of wisdome, to others the gift of knowledge, to others faith, to others the gift of healing, to others the working of miracles, to others prophesie, to others discerning of spirits, to others divers kinds of tongue, to others the interpretations of tongues: all these worketh one and the same spirit, the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. 12. 4.) whom the Lord Christ as he promised, sent down this day with these gifts, in honour of whom and his gifts we keep this day holy.
This time was also appointed of old for solemn baptism. The reason was: 1. Because this day the Apostles were baptized with the holy Ghost and fire, Acts 2. 3. 2. Because this day three thousand were baptized by the Apostle, Acts 2. 40. In memory of which, the Church ever after held a solemn custome of baptizing at this Feast. Gratian. de Consec. Dis. 3. c. 13.
This day is called Pentecost, because it is fifty days betwixt the true Passeover and Whitsunday.
As there were fifty days from the Jews Passeover to the giving of the Law to Moses in Mount Sina, which Law was written with the finger of God: (for from the 14. day of the first month, the day of the Passeover, to the third day of the third month, the day of the Laws giving, Exod. 19. are fifty days) so from the true Passeover which was celebrated, when Christ was offered up for us, are fifty days to this time when the Holy Ghost came down upon the Church, to write the new Law of Charity in their hearts. Upon this meditation S. Aug. breaks out thus, Who would not prefer the joy and pleasure of these mysteries, before all Empires of the world? Do you not see, that as the two Seraphins cry one to another, holy, holy, holy, Esay. 6. 3. So the two Testaments Old and New faithfully agreeing, convince the sacred truth of God? S. Aug. Ep. 119. Note that we must not count the fifty days from the very day of the Passeover, but from the Sunday following; and so God directed the Jews Lev. 23. 15. speaking of their Pentecost or Feasts of Weeks, And ye shall count from the morrow after the Sabbath, from that day seven weeks shall be compleat.
It is also called Whitsunday from the glorious Light of Heaven which was then sent down upon the Earth, from the Father of Lights: so many tongues, so many Lights, which kindled such a light in the world on this day, as never shall be put out to the worlds end: as also because the new baptized, which were many at that Feast (Whitsunday and Easter, being the two solemn times of baptism) and of old called Illuminati, the Enlightned, Heb. 6. 6. from the spiritual light they received in baptism, were then cloathed in white garments, as types both of that spiritual whiteness and purity of soul, which they received in baptism, and were carefully to preserve all their life after, As also of their joy for being made then by baptism members of Christ, Children of God, and Heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven. White is the colour of joy, says Eccles. 9. 8. Let thy garments be always white, for God now accepts of thy works. S. Cyril in his 4. Cat. myst. alluding to this ancient custome of the new baptized, of putting off their old garments, and clothing themselves in pure white, hath words to this effect.
This white clothing is to mind you, that you should always hereafter go in white. I speak not this to perswade you always to wear white clothes, but that you should ever be clothed with spiritual white, brightness and purity o soul. that so you may say with divine Esay 61. 10. I will greatly rejoyce in the Lord, for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness. Of which robe of righteousness and garment of salvation, the white vestment was a resemblance. Apoc. 19. 8. And to her was granted, that he should be arrayed in fine linnen, clean and white, for fine linen is the righteousness of the Saints.
Whitsunday then is as much as Dominica in albis, the Sunday in white. The Greeks for the same reason call Easter Kuriakh lamtra, the Bright Sunday, because then also the new baptized wore white. But the Latins call neither of these days from thence, but give them their names from the Resurrection, and Pentecost, and the Octave of Easter or Low Sunday is by them called Dominica in Albis, as is abovesaid.
This Holy day hath Proper Lessons and Psalms.
The Second Lessons are plain. The Morning first Lesson Deut. 16. gives us the Law of the Jews Pentecost, or Feast of Weeks, which was a type of ours.
The Evening first Lesson Wisd. 1. is fit for this day. For it treats of the holy Spirit, ver. 5, 6. how it fills the world, ver. 7. which was most exactly fulfilled this day, in which they were all filled with the holy Ghost, Acts 2.
The Psalms for the morning 45. 47. are very proper to the day. The beginning of the 45. is concerning the Birth of Christ, and therefore used upon Christmas-day; but the latter part is concerning the calling of the Gentiles, ver. 10, 11. and the glory of the Church the King of Heavens Daughter, v. 14. Who is all glorious within, through the heavenly gifts and graces of the holy Ghost, sent down this day; which glorious gifts miraculously poured upon the Church brought in the Gentiles to the Christian faith, ver. 15. The Virgins that be her fellows shall bear her company; and shall be brought unto thee. For which all the people shall (as holy Church directs us to do this day) give thanks unto thee, verse 18. In holy Davids Psalms, as we do, so Theodoret in Psal.
I will remember thy Name from one generation to another, therefore shall the people give thanks unto thee, world without end: That is, all people to the worlds end shall praise God for these blessings upon the Church with those Psalms which I compose, and so, (though I be dead long before) yet in my Psalms sung by them, I will remember thy Name from one generation to another.
The 47. Psalm is a song of praise for the conversion of the Gentiles, by the Gospel published this day in all Languages, Acts 2. for which the Prophet invites them to active praises, ver. 1. O clap your hands together all ye people; O sing unto God with the voice of melody, for God is gone up, in jubilo, with a merry noise, ver. 5. That was upon Ascension day. And now he is set upon his holy and royal seat, he reigns over the heathen, makes the Princes of the people joyn in one body unto the people of the God of Abraham, brings the Gentiles in to the Jews, and makes one Church of both; and that by the Gospel of the kingdom, published this day, to all Nations, and so, that was done this day, for which this Psalm gives thanks.
Evening Ps. are 104, 145. These two are thankful Commemorations of the various gifts of God the Holy Ghost, who then gave temporal, this day, spiritual gifts, which spiritual gifts of this day were shadowed out by those temporal, and all come from the same spirit, 1 Cor. 12. 4. to whom this Feast is held sacred: So that in blessing the Author of them, we bless the Author of these, the holy Spirit from whom these divers gifts. Some part of the 104. is more particularly appliable to this Feast. He maketh the clouds his chariots, that was upon Ascension day, when he went up to Heaven in a cloud, Acts 1. 9. ver. 5. Then follows ver. 30. Emittis spiritum, Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, and they shall be made, thou shalt renew the face of the earth, which is proper to this day; for this day the Holy Spirit was sent, and renewed the face of the Earth, with new Creatures, new Men of new hearts and new tongues, Acts 2. Old things passed away, and all things are become new.
The same Harmony of Epistle, Gospel and Collect, and Lessons and Psal. that we have observed upon Christmas and Easter, and Ascension, may with pleasure be meditated upon this day.
The same Ancients testifie the Antiquity of this Feast, that gave in evidence for Easter.
THe Epistles for both relate not only to the sending of the Holy Ghost, but also to Baptism, which the Church takes often occasion to remember us of by her Readings and Usages, and would have us improve them all towards most useful Meditations.
This is one of the four Ember-weeks; of which see above, after the first Sunday in Lent, p. 149.