In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.
Christ has Ascended! From Earth to Heaven!
Have any of you ever lost anything? It seems like most of us are always losing something. Often times it’s something like a key, or a piece of clothing, a cellphone, or money… You all know what it is you’ve lost in the past. Often times, it’s something of very little value. I know some kids who are always losing things, pencils, erasures, shirts, and shoes! I won’t mention any of their names, of course! And now, if we’re not losing something, we’re forgetting. Now days we need passwords for every little thing! One for email, one for banking, one for Amazon! And however many passwords you have, that’s how many you forget!
That’s frustrating of course. But that’s never as bad as losing something that is important to you. Let’s say you had a really important document, or a family heirloom, something irreplaceable. One of a kind! Something that you fear as a parent, is losing one of your children. What if one of them walks away from you while you’re at the store or some other busy public place? The fear is real and tangible. And what does the poor child feel who gets separated from his or her parent? The panic, it must be paralyzing!
A parent knows their child, loves their child, would do anything for their child, would do anything to find their child. Christ Himself gives us an idea of the understanding that God has in this issue. Sometimes we forget the kind of love that God has for us, we imagine Him to be so big and impersonal, sitting way up in Heaven completely disinterested in what we’re going through here. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 15, we are give a couple of parables which help to illustrate God’s great love for us: vs’s 3-7
3 So Jesus told them this parable. 4 “Which one of you, if you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that was lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he carries it on his shoulders, rejoicing! 6 Coming home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, telling them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ 7 I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous who need no repentance.
Cleenewerck, L. (Ed.). (2011). The Eastern/Greek Orthodox Bible: New Testament (Lk 15:3–7). Laurent A. Cleenewerck.
And in vs 8-10:
8 Or what woman, if she had ten drachma coins and lost one, would not light a lamp, sweep the house, and look hard until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the drachma coin which I had lost!’ 10 Likewise, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Cleenewerck, L. (Ed.). (2011). The Eastern/Greek Orthodox Bible: New Testament (Lk 15:8–10). Laurent A. Cleenewerck.
You see here on the one hand, how well the Lord understands us, His people, His creation. He knows very well how we are. In fact, he’s probably drawing on personal experience. Just imagine how much personal experience the Son of God has! But also in His 30 or so years of earthly life, living in community, He took everything in. Nothing escaped His notice!
With the woman and the lost coin, just look at how much effort she goes through to look for her coin. It was precious! She did not have any coins to waste. She could not afford to be indifferent about any coins, large or small in value, that she owned. A loss of a single coin would effect her quite significantly. One of these drachma coins was worth about 2 days wages. This was not something she could afford to shrug off. This wasn’t a penny! The parable says, “she would…light a lamp and sweep the house, and look hard until she finds it”. So when she finds it, you can understand her great relief and her joy. She acually called “together her friends and neighbors, and told them about what happened, and told them to “rejoice” with her, to celebrate! And using this picture of joy and jubilation that we can imagine, Christ says that something quite similar happens in heaven when a person repents, and turns back to God.
Well, what’s been lost here? People! In fact, much of humanity! The Lord uses an example to show us how God is, and what God does to reach us. But really, it so much more! The Lord uses so many comparisons, so many symbols. But Look at what the Lord Himself has done. He did not come to earth just to look around for us. See how the woman looks everywhere, and pulls out her broom and starts sweeping everywhere, to find her coin. In the case of the Lord, look what He has done in order to “find” us, His lost sheep.
God, the second person of the Trinity, the Word and power of God, went to great lengths as we know, to recover His suffering and lost creation. God became flesh, and He allowed Himself to be born, as a little babe. He went from sitting at the right hand of the Father, being worshipped by all the Heavenly Hosts, to being born in a cave, with nothing but a few shepherds and farm animals around Him. Look at how humbly the Lord describes His own mission, in coming to dwell among His people, in order to save them. He likens it to sweeping the house! He likens it to a shepherd leaving His flock in safety, and searching for a lost sheep.
But we know, Christ did so much more to save us, didn’t He? First of all, it wasn’t just one sheep that was lost and needed saving. Nor was it just one coin that was misplaced and needed to be found. All of humanity needed His Divine Intervention! So Christ, in obedience to the will of His Father, consented to leave His rightful position next to His Father and embark on a holy and history changing mission. He came to this earth, not riding on a golden chariot, not with trumpets, not with an army of angels. But He came humbly, the way all of His lost sheep come into the world. He became incarnate in the womb of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, uniting His uncreated divinity to created and finite humanity. By the Grace of the Holy Spirit, God stepped out of eternity and entered time and space, subjecting himself to those laws. He had to wait 9 months to develop within His mother’s womb. He was carried about within one of His creations, waiting patiently for the appropriate time.
When He was born, He appeared as the rest of us do, as a helpless little newborn infant. Totally depending on His human protectors for everything, completely vulnerable. He had to take time and grow up in the same way that we do. Learning to crawl, learning to walk, learning to talk, and read. He learned the trade of carpentry from His earthly father Joseph, and He studied the scriptures, preparing His humanity for what His Divinity had been waiting centuries for the right moment to accomplish.
What a slow and painstaking process He went through. Couldn’t He have accomplished it all in the speed of a lightning flash? This shepherd wanted to dwell in the midst of His sheep. He needed to give meaning to, and sanctify all stages of our human lives. The sheep He was searching for, the coins which had been lost, were all there in plain sight. Those He had come to find and save, did not realize they were lost. These little children, did not realized that they had walked away from their loving parent and were in danger.
The Lord did not stop at uniting His divinity with our humanity, which is in itself something very important. But His work was not done there. He had to develop relationships with humble and faithful men and women. People who could carry on His mission after He was gone. The work of uniting humanity to divinity, would be an ongoing, perpetual work. Because even though human nature, human flesh was now united to God, our good shepherd did not take away the freedom He gave His rational sheep in the beginning. His lost sheep, still have the freedom to turn back at the sound of His voice, or to continue to follow the enticing voices of the many wolves that are out there, trying to lure as many away as possible. So the Lord was sure to make as many acquaintances, disciples as possible. He made sure there were good students who would continue the work of finding His lost sheep.
There were more aspects of human life He had to experience, and sanctify. Of all things, the Giver of Life, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Word and Power of God, humbly submitted Himself to unjust judgement, to imprisonment, to physical punishment, and finally to death. The Lord would not hold Himself back from any aspect of our human existence, except from sin of course. The Lord died and was buried in a tomb. But what would He find there? What sheep was there? As we hear so often throughout the year in the Church, the Lord was not finished. He was not content with reaching out to just those who were presently alive on the face of the earth. There were many many generations who had lived and died before, starting with Adam and Eve themselves. Christ came for them too? Christ, ever humble, ever unexpected, and like the widow, ever the hard worker leaving no stone unturned to find what He was looking for, descended even to Hades. He went into realm of death itself to show all those who had gone before, they were not forgotten. The Lord had come for them, just as had been promised in the days of old. Their wait was finally over. Christ was not bound by death, and now neither were those in Hades He had gone to free from its bonds. Our Good God will truly stop at nothing to find His beloved sheep.
But that wasn’t all. Christ our Good Shepherd not only freed the captives who were trapped in Hades, but then He defeated death itself! With His own human body, now transformed and brought back to life again and reenergized with His Life-giving soul, granting life also to those He had rescued, and to all those who would come after. But trampling down death by death wasn’t enough either!
What did the shepherd do in the parable of the lost sheep? He put the lost sheep on his shoulders and carries it home, rejoicing! The Lord now having completed His earthly mission, now carries humanity with Him, on His shoulders you could say, ascending back up to heaven. He returns to the side of His father, to His throne, again surrounded by angels, and archangels, worshipped and glorified by the seraphim, and the cherubim. But it’s different now. Because He is not just as He was, but He is now sitting at the right hand of the Father, in His deified, glorified human body! And all those whom He raised from Hades, and all those after who died in faith, have been raised up likewise to be near Him, and to be close to His Father as well. The Lord did not just come to find a lost sheep. But He came to transform those sheep and make them, make us, a part of His Divine Family. He makes of us His brothers and sisters. He raises us up from our fallenness, and puts on us a new beautiful garment, and a ring on our finger, as in the parable of the prodigal son. Christ’s Ascension into heaven, takes us up with Him. Where He is, we shall go as well as He promised. What He has become, we shall become also by the Grace of the Holy Spirit as He promised.
So let us brothers and sisters, take heed of the Lord’s promise to us. Let us contemplate on all that He has done for us. Let us not let His Great effort and self-sacrifice on our behalf go to waste. Let us now listen and strive to hear the voice of our Good Shepherd, and follow Him. For He has only our best interest in mind. He wants us to share in His Divinity! Nothing less! This is the work that He accomplished, and this work is ongoing. Let us do our part to prepare our own souls and bodies to be worthy of that great gift that He offers all of us.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Christ has Ascended!