Sermon at Silverstream Priory
Ascension Thursday 2018

Last evening at Vespers, the Magnificat Antiphon gave us the words of the ascending Christ, the sublime utterance of Christ the High Priest advancing towards the heavenly sanctuary. The divine word “Father” comes to flower on His lips with an indescribable majesty and sweetness:

Father, I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou hast given me; and now I pray for them, not for the world, for I come to Thee (John 17:6, 9, 11).

All of heaven rises and looks on in awe as the High Priest, crowned with glory and adorned with the dazzling rubies of His five wounds, draws near to heaven’s gates. Now is the ancient prophecy fulfilled:

For thou hast met Him on the way with blessings of sweetness: thou hast set on his head a crown of precious stones. He asked life of thee: and thou hast given him length of days for ever and ever. His glory is great in thy salvation: glory and great beauty shalt thou lay upon him. (Psalm 20:4–6)

Today is the festival of Christ the High Priest. Under the Old Dispensation, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, there to offer to God the blood of the sacrificial victims. Today, Christ the High Priest enters the heavenly sanctuary itself, passing beyond the veil, there to offer His own Blood, and to secure for all of us blessings that still lie in the future.

While all of this is unfolding in the heavenly places, what do the men of Galilee, the Mother of Jesus, and the holy women see from the Mount Olives? Saint Luke tells us that they saw Him lifted up, and a cloud caught Him away from their sight. The Apostles, the Mother, and the rest of the company strain to catch one last glimpse of His glorious countenance. And then, in an immense silence, that beloved Face, the Face of the King of Peace, that all the world desired to see, disappears from the eyes of the world.

Saint Luke completes the description he gives in the first chapter of the book of Acts in the final chapter of his Gospel. The two accounts must be read together.

And he led them out as far as Bethania: and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. And it came to pass, whilst he blessed them, he departed from them, and was carried up to heaven. And they adoring went back into Jerusalem with great joy. And they were always in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen. (Luke 24:50–53)
This is where the Ascension of the Lord leaves us. We return today to the Cenacle, to the place of the bread become His Body, and of the chalice of wine  become His Blood; to that room wherein He prayed with such filial confidence and priestly reverence on the night before He suffered. There, in the Cenacle, the very walls seem to have imbibed the words of His priestly prayer. The fragrance of His sacrificial offering still hangs, like incense, in the air. There the Mother gives herself over to prayer, drawing all who approach her into the silence that inhabits her: not the silence of death, but the living, pulsating silence of an adoration so intense that heaven seems to have descended into the Cenacle, and the Cenacle to have been assumed into heaven.
This is the silence into which we enter today. In nine days time the silence will be charged with a kind of fire; the Mother, and those gathered about her, will begin to speak with divers tongues, even as the Holy Ghost will give them to speak. Their sound will go forth into all the earth: and their words unto the ends of the world. And wherever their words resound, men will be drawn again and again into the silence of the Cenacle. And in that hush, words — His own words — will be whispered again over the bread and over the chalice of wine, mixed with a little water. In that moment, wheresoever it occurs and whensoever it occurs,  the Face that disappeared over the Mount Olives begins to shine again, causing the Church to sing, as we shall sing at Vespers:

O Jesus, our redemption,
our love, and our desire,
God, Creator of all things,
become Man in the fullness of time.

What tender love, what pity
compelled Thee to bear our crimes,
to suffer a cruel death
that we, from death, might be saved?

Into death’s dark cloister didst Thou descend,
and from it captives free didst bring;
Thy triumph won, Thou didst take Thy place,
Thou, the Victor, at the Father’s right.

Let thy tender love, thy costly compassion
press Thee now to prevail over our woes,
grant us pardon,
and fill us full with the splendour of Thy face.

Thou art already the joy of all our days,
Thou Who in eternity will be our prize;
let all our glory be in Thee,
forever, and always, and in the age to come.
(Jesu nostra redemptio, Hymn at Vespers of the Ascension)