Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE SUNDAY AFTER ASCENSION DAY, 1935.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
We are celebrating the Ascension of Our Lord into heaven. For forty days after Our Lord's resurrection He remained with His disciples. He showed Himself to them by every infallible proof that they might be convinced of His resurrection. In the glory of His risen Body, He revealed to them the glory which would be theirs after their own bodies had been raised from the grave; changed from the natural into the spiritual; changed from the body of humiliation into the body of glory. He instructed His disciples in the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
Our Lord's Ascension was a physical ascension through the sky into Heaven. As the disciples had seen Our Lord's true Body, having flesh and bones, after His Resurrection, so at His Ascension, they saw His true Body, having flesh and bones, pass into the heavens.
By His Ascension Our Lord "entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us." He is our great High Priest in heaven. "Because He continueth ever," he "Bath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." "By his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us." "Seeing that we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."
All this and more you will find in the Epistle to the Hebrews. During Ascensiontide we should read this Epistle until our minds are saturated with it; until we have really felt the spirit of it, and by very definite acts of the will made a vital, personal religion of it. Nothing short of an act of abandonment of ourselves to Our Lord as our High Priest, our Advocate, our Mediator, our Intercessor, now and always, will make it real. And we must train ourselves to do this penitently and humbly and simply and trustfully and boldly. It is not difficult to do this when we remember "that we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." It is pleasing to Our Lord to have us "come boldly."
In heaven Our Lord offers Himself, bearing in His risen and glorified Body the marks of the sacrifice of his death upon the Cross, for us men and for our salvation.
Our Lord has withdrawn His physical presence from the world, yet He has provided for His sacramental presence upon the altars of His Church, and has instituted and commanded us to continue a perpetual memory of His precious death and sacrifice, until His coming again. The Eucharistic offering upon the altars of the Church is one with the offering of Our Lord in heaven of the merits of the sacrifice of His Death upon the Cross. In this immortal sacrifice Christians at their earthly altars are one with their ascended Lord and have mystic, sweet communion with Christians beyond the veil. The one high priest sets the one sacrifice of the cross between their sins and their reward, and obtains for them remission of their sins, and all other benefits of his passion.
The thing to keep in mind on Ascension Day is that Our Lord is a present, not an absent, Lord. The doors of everlasting life are open, not closed, doors. The gates of heaven are opened wide. The Ascended Lord is with us always, even unto the end of the world. We must set our minds free from the notion of time. We must rid our minds of the idea of space. We must school ourselves to cease from thinking of the natural world as separated from the spiritual world by some immeasurable astronomical distance. The two worlds interpenetrate. "A cloud received him out of their sight." Yet by the power and guidance of the Holy Ghost, faith has pierced beyond the cloud and has enabled us in heart and mind thither to ascend. Holy Communion has enabled us to satisfy the heart's desire and to fulfil the mind's aspiration with Him continually to dwell.
Affectionately in Our Lord,