May 29 is Ascension Day which marks Christ’s going, as he told his disciples, “to my Father and to your Father; to my God and to your God” (John 20:17; this event is described most fully in Acts). Augustine’s homily on the ascension articulates the importance of a feast which has been celebrated in the Church from the earliest days:
Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him. Listen to the words of the Apostle: If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth.
For just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.
Christ is now exalted above the heavens, but he still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of his body, have to bear. He showed this when he cried out from above: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? and when he said: I was hungry and you gave me food.
Why do we on earth not strive to find rest with him in heaven even now, through the faith, hope and love that unites us to him? While in heaven he is also with us; and we while on earth are with him. He is here with us by his divinity, his power and his love. We cannot be in heaven, as he is on earth, by divinity, but in him, we can be there by love.
Early twentieth century British composer Charles Villiers Stanford’s “Coelos ascendit hodie” takes anonymous words from the Cowley Carol Book and sets them in a joyful a capella anthem for two choirs: each assertion of Christ’s triumph by one choir is answered “Alleluia!” by the other, ending in a majestic “Amen.”
Performed here by the Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge, directed by Christopher Robinson.
Coelos ascendit hodie
Jesus Christus Rex Gloriae.
Sedet ad Patris dexteram,
Gubernat coelum et terram.
Iam finem habent omnia
Patris Davidis carmina. Alleluia!
Iam Dominus cum Domino
Sedet in Dei solio.
In hoc triumpho maximo –
Laudatur Sancta Trinitas,
Deo dicamus gratias.
Today Jesus Christ, the King of Glory,
Has ascended into the heavens.
He sits at the Father’s right hand,
Ruling heaven and earth.
Now are David’s songs fulfilled.
Now is the Lord with his Lord,
He sits upon the royal throne of God,
In this his greatest triumph.
Let us bless the Lord:
Let the Holy Trinity be praised:
Let us give thanks to the Lord.