Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE SUNDAY AFTER ASCENSION DAY, 1938.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
"It came to pass, while He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven." Our Lord ascended into heaven with the same body concerning which He had said to the disciples, "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have."
His ascension was a physical movement into the sky. It was Our Lord's physical withdrawal from earth and His physical entrance into heaven. The risen Body of Our Lord went to heaven and is in heaven now. Therefore heaven is a place. It is a real place. It is a real place, where Our Lord's risen and ascended Body really is. It is as real a place as the places in which Our Lord lived His life on earth before His crucifixion and death. It is as real a place as the places in which He met His disciples after His resurrection. It is as real a place, on the other side of the cloud which received Him, as the place in which He stood when the cloud received Him.
Heaven is a real place into which our risen bodies will go after Our Lord has raised them from our graves. Our Lord will take us to the places He has prepared for us, that where He is there we may be also. We shall have our real bodies in heaven.
Our bodies are sown natural bodies; they are raised spiritual bodies. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. There are bodies terrestrial, and there are bodies celestial. We shall be changed from the one to the other. As we have been given the body for the life on earth, so we shall be given the body for the life in heaven. It will be identically the same body, but it will be changed so that it will be adapted for the life in heaven.
This change is a gradual one, actually taking place now. The process of spiritualizing our bodies is slow, difficult and painful sometimes. The natural body does not submit to it tamely. The natural flesh must be subdued to the spirit. Its carnal and corrupt affections must be mortified. Our rebellious, disordered wills must be made obedient to the ordered life ordained by God. Our unstable hearts must be stabilized and surely fixed where true joys are to be found.
From Easter Even on through Eastertide the Collects begin to teach us to pray for this change. "As we are baptized into the death of thy blessed Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, so by continually mortifying our corrupt affections we may be buried with Him: and that through the grave and gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection."
"We humbly beseech thee that as by thy special grace preventing us, thou dost put into our minds good desires, so by thy continual help we may bring the same to good effect." "Grant us grace to die daily from sin, that we may ever-more live with Him in the joy of His resurrection." "Grant us grace to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may always serve thee in pureness of living and truth."
"Grant unto us that we may avoid those things which are contrary to our profession." "Grant unto thy people that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise." "Grant to us thy humble servants that by thy holy inspiration we may think those things that are good, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same."
The Sacraments enable us to fulfil in our lives what we have prayed with our lips. In Baptism the Church prayed for us that we may die to sin and rise to newness of life: that all sinful affections may die in us, and that all things belonging to the Spirit may live and grow in us. In Holy Communion the Church prays for us, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by His Body, and our souls washed through His most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in Him and He in us.
So through Sacraments and prayer we make our journey to heaven.
Affectionately in Our Lord,