The Cloud of the Ascension
The glory and power of God can weigh on us sometimes. But not for the reason you might think. You see: most people assume that because God is divine He imposes His will on us. While it is certainly true that God is great and glorious, and far beyond our comprehension, the real reason we most often feel God as a weight is that we use our humanness as an excuse to remain human. In other words, we use our human nature to justify our rampant sinfulness, and therefore we feel the weight of the difference between us and the Divinity of God.
But the Ascension teaches us that God is offering us something quite different. Not only did God become incarnate in order to save us from our sin and degradation, but also to transfigure our humanity so that it could become divine. In other words, God made it so that we could grow closer to Him now and in eternity. The Apostles learned this in their own lifetimes by witnessing Jesus Christ – both in His humanity and divinity – ascending to heaven.
"And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’" (Acts 1:9-11).
Think about the Ascension this way: every time we approach the altar to partake of the Most Holy Eucharist, we know we are not merely ingesting bread and wine, but feeding on the Christ who is fully present within the gifts. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the material reality of the bread and wine is being transformed into a comingled reality of materiality and divinity.
In a vastly superior way, God is willing to transform the singularity of our humanity into a comingled reality of humanity and divinity. This is precisely what happened to the Prophets and Apostles. As they gave themselves over to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, they were able to step into the unknown (and often mysterious) realm of the divine. Think about it like this: in a similar (though still mysterious way), each of them were willing to step deep into what is known as the cloud of unknowing: Moses in Exodus 24:15-18; Mary in Luke 1:35; Peter, James, and John in Matthew 17:5-8 (cf. Mark 9:7-8 and Luke 9:33-36); and now, today, the Apostles in Acts 1:9-11. In other words, these people were willing to step out of their typical human smallness and sinfulness, and into the mystery and glory of God.
Each and every day, we must work hard to have faith enough to step into this mysterious cloud of divinity so that God may transform us.
"Let us run with confidence and joy to enter into the cloud like Moses and Elijah, or like James and John. Let us be caught up like Peter to behold the divine vision and to be transfigured by that glorious transfiguration. Let us retire from the world, stand aloof from the earth, rise above the body, detach ourselves from creatures and turn to the creator, to whom Peter in ecstasy exclaimed: Lord, it is good for us to be here" (An excerpt from a sermon by St. Anastasius of Sinai).
Trusting in the lives of the Prophets and the Apostles, let us pray for one another so that we may live our lives in this way.