June 6, 2019

Homily One on the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ (St. John Chrysostom)

Homily One on the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ

Ascribed to St. John Chrysostom 
(Ps. Chrysostom)

1. Three incredible wonders — not known from the beginning of time and beyond our natural understanding — are intertwined, and remain unbroken and immovable. For a triple-braidcord is not quickly ripped apart. These are: the virgin mother giving birth, the resurrection after the three day passion, and the ascension of flesh into heaven. Time knows of a barren woman giving birth, but not without marital relations; it knows of dead who have come back to life, but not into life unending; it knows of a prophet taken up, but only as it were into heaven, that is ‘as if’, not in truth. For Elijah passed from place to place, but the Saviour ascended, to whence he descended; while many men and women looked on, and grew weary gazing up at the sky, and angels bore witness to the spectacle, and disclosed the second coming: "And behold," it is written, "two men in white robes stood beside them, and said: Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?" And so forth.

2. Oh how much has the Good One accomplished for the salvation of his wicked servants!He descended from heaven; he ascended into heaven; from heaven he will come again. How then, will he come? Not as some other divided hypostasis, but in the likeness of flesh, inhuman form; not however in a lowly manner as formerly — not sleeping in a boat, not detained by weariness from thirst next to a well, not seated on the colt of an ass — but carried by colts in the form of clouds; not bringing fishermen with him, but accompanied by a guard of angels; not standing before the judgement seat, but he himself will be judging the uttermost ends of the universe, granting judicial authority to the fishermen, as he himself taught the disciples, saying: "When the son of man will sit on his throne of glory, you will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." And to the Jews: "If I cast out demons by Beelzeboul, by whom then do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges" — since those who were of the Jews, did not heed the things of the Jews, but preferred the sufferings of Christ, and the marks of their relatives, the slayers of the Lord.

3. What a great wonder! What a strange tribunal: to see a fisherman judging, and a Pharisee being judged, a tent maker boldly sitting as judge, and a high priest groaning, being convicted. Why then were they slapping the Master’s face, and punching him around the head, until in the end they murdered the heir outside the vineyard? Why did they imprison Peter? Why did they torture Paul five times with forty lashes less one? Yet the admirable high priest Ananias commanded his servants to strike Paul’s mouth, the mouth of Paul, the mouth of grace, the mouth of truth, the plectrum of life, the noblest of all trumpets, the most harmonious of all harmonies, the instrument of Christ, the flute of the Spirit; for those things which are known through the Holy Spirit, Paul made public with his tongue. And so I think David was characterising Paul when he wrote: "My tongue is the pen of a swift-writing scribe." What then did Paul say to Ananias, foreseeing his impending judgement? "God will strike you, whitewashed wall!" For a whitewashed wall is an ornamented tomb; an enemy without, and dead within.

4. Since therefore the account of life’s actions and the universal court lies ahead, the demand of the work of the talents, the spurn of the mystical wedding , the illumination of the bridal chamber, the seed’s increase, the fruit of the vineyard, and all that he revealed to us through parables — let us weigh up our life, and change our ways, not acting like money-changers, or gold diggers, or predatory lenders — for these things the judge also rejects — but supporting the poor, practicing hospitality, calling on god, and doing all that you know will soften the Judge’s wrath. Learn the profit of hospitality, looking to Abraham, reckoning on the benefit of the supplication of the Ninevites, considering Tabitha, the treasury of mercy, stretched out lifeless on the bed, about to be buried. But the widows surrounding Peter and showing him the dead woman’s gifts, pulled her up from Hades.

5. If then, widows’ tears brought life back to a dead body certain to have died again, what sort of good rewards do you think the judge is ready to give to those who habitually feed the poor with a generous hand and do not reject their testimony? For at that time the gift cannot be taken away, no longer will death interrupt, but life will continue unbroken. "For a trumpet will sound," it is written, "and the dead in Christ" will rise "incorruptible" and unchangeable, in imitation of the Lord. And just as clouds carried him, so we too, in Paul’s words, "will be snatched up in the clouds." And just as he ascended with a joyful shout and the sound of a trumpet, in the same manner, we also, at the sound of the archangel’s trumpet, will shake off the cloud of death like sleep, and be joined to the author of life. "And so," he says, "we shall always be with him," intent on the things of the Lord, keeping his commandments. May we all hear that blessed, esteemed voice: "Well done good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over a little, I will put you in charge over much, enter into the joy of your master." To him be the glory and the power, into the ages of ages. Amen.