Let us pray (in silence) [that we may consciously live in the presence of the Risen Christ]
Eternal and gracious God,
we believe your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
to have ascended with triumph
into your kingdom in heaven;
may we also in heart and mind
ascend to where he is,
and with him continually dwell;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and forever.
This collect (NZPB p.602) is assigned to Ascension Day.
In the Gregorian Sacramentary (no 497) [The Gregorian Sacramentary exists in manuscripts from the late eighth century.] The Sarum Missal, Ascension Day, BCP (1549 onwards), Ascension Day.
The original Gregorian/Sarum Latin collect is a simple:
“Grant, we pray, almighty God, that we who believe your only-begotten one, our redeemer, to be ascended into heaven, may keep our minds fixed on heavenly things, through…”
Cranmer changed “redeemer” to “Lord” (restored to “Saviour” here), added “heart” to “mind” and added “and with him continually dwell”.
Biblical allusion: Col 3:1-3
There is much to enrich us in monastic spirituality. Benedictine spirituality in many ways is the undergirding spirituality of Anglicanism. The monastic tradition of “fuga mundi” (“flee the world”), however, is too easily misinterpreted as an anti-creation, other-worldly, so-heavenly-minded-as-to-be-of-no-earthly-use spirituality. This has little validity in a world in ecological crisis, or in a religion that believes in Incarnation. And resurrection. And sacraments.
God did not dress up in a human body and then discard this at death, returning to some preferable spiritual state. God’s hypostatic union to creation is permanent. Christ retains his full, created, creaturely, humanity in the resurrection. Including his body. The Ascension proclaims and celebrates Christ takes this creation into the full presence of God. The metaphorical language of “up” must never allow for an escapist spirituality. If we do not find God in our everyday life of work, sport, friends, food, music, nature, bodies,… we do not find God at all.
The New Zealand Prayer Book Commission’s alteration of the Sursum Corda to “Lift your hearts to heaven/ where Christ in glory reigns” is one of the more unfortunate innovations, encouraging a dualistic as well as triumphalistic spirituality. Thankfully, General Synod 1987 had the wisdom to restore “Lift up your hearts/we lift them to the Lord” in several New Zealand Prayer Book Eucharistic rites.
Ascension is not a literal date – even Luke, whose chronology most quickly springs to mind, has the Ascension on Easter Day in his gospel, and forty days later in his volume two, the Acts of the Apostles. For John, Jesus ascends, is lifted up, on the throne of his cross. Roman Catholics, in New Zealand and elsewhere, celebrate Ascension 43 days after Easter Day!
Ascension Day is a feast, not a season. The Season is the fifty days of the Easter Season. The Easter Candle continues to burn until and including the Day of Pentecost. The Lectionary’s referring to it as “Ascensiontide” is confused and confusing. I cannot locate the formulary that would have this collect read daily from now until the following Thursday as advised by the New Zealand lectionary. Nor can I see any logic in this. Nor can I understand the liturgical purpose of following its suggestion to have two collects.
Ascension Day commences the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in the Southern Hemisphere. That the Northern and Southern Hemisphere cannot even agree on dating the week of prayer for Christian Unity is in itself, sadly, worthy of reflection.