"Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that [Jesus] was parted from them and carried up into heaven" (Luke 24:51). In the sequel, we learn that Jesus ascended from earth to heaven forty days after His resurrection: "Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9).
The bodily Ascension of Christ signals the next phase in the fulfillment of God's plan of salvation for the entire world. Christ told His apostles prior to His crucifixion and resurrection, "It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you…when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth" (John 16:7, 13). The Ascension (40th day) prepares the way for Pentecost (50th day), the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples gathered in the Church.
Likewise, the bodily Ascension of Christ does not result in the absence of Christ from the faithful – quite the opposite. Jesus promised, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20). The Apostle Paul explains: "And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell…the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:18-19, 27).
The Ascension of Christ signals this essential transition and transformation of what is earthly to what is heavenly, the worldly to things pertaining to the Kingdom of God, that which is below to that which is above. This transformation is made possible by the God-man Himself who assumed our human nature and joined it to the divine nature in His one Person, redeeming and restoring our nature by His birth, life, crucifixion, and resurrection. Now He takes our nature cleansed of sin, death, and corruption to the realm of God beyond all weakness and decay and empowers us here to participate in His life there.
"If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died (i.e., in baptism, through faith), and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory" (Col. 3:1-4; 2:12).
The Church is the place of our ascension, not merely the place to remember Christ's Ascension, but the assembly in which the Ascension of Christ is communicated with the faithful. "Lift up your hearts," we say at the Divine Liturgy just before Communion. "Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," we say to begin the Liturgy. "Take! Eat! This is My Body which is broken for you…Drink of it, all of you! This is My Blood of the New Testament…Remembering this saving commandment and all those things which have come to pass for us: the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the Sitting at the right hand, and the second and glorious coming. Thine own of Thine own we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all" (Divine Liturgy of St. John).
Christ's commandment to "do this in remembrance of Me" (Lk. 22:19) encompasses not only the Divine Liturgy with administration of Holy Communion, but now our entire life hidden with Christ in God including the hope of greeting Christ when He returns in glory on the Last Day the same as if it occurs today. Indeed, the angels told the disciples who witnessed Christ's bodily Ascension, "This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11).
Now we live liturgically both learning of, feeding on, and being confirmed in the divine life in the assembly of the faithful, and witnessing to that life by walking in faith, hope, and love amid a world of unbelief, despair, and self-gratification. Jesus answered Nicodemus, "If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven" (John 3:12-13). All that Christ accomplished reveals His Ascension to where He always is, namely, in the heavens where He wants us to be with Him as He is with us. As we live in Christ and He in us, we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension every minute, every hour, and every day.