Excerpt from an Ascension homily of Saint John Chrysostom.
Translation by Dr. Edith M. Humphrey, William F. Orr Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
So that you may learn that he did not hate our nature, but that he was turning away evil…. [Remember that] we who appeared to be unworthy of the earth, were this day [through his Ascension] brought up to the heavens. For we, who from the beginning were not even worthy of what was below, have come up to the kingdom on high; we have gone beyond the heavens; we have grasped hold of the royal throne.
Even that very [human] nature, on account of which the Cherubim had to guard Paradise, this day is seated above the Cherubim! But how has this great wonder happened? How did we who were stricken — who appeared unworthy of the earth and were banished below from the earliest ages — how did we come up to such a height? How was the battle destroyed and how was the wrath lifted? How?
For this is the wonderful thing: that it wasn’t we who had grown unjustly angry with God who made the appeal, but that One who was justly vexed, who called us to his side, who entreated us, so that there was peace. “For on Christ’s behalf we are ambassadors, as though God were entreating you through us.”
What is this? Is the One who is himself abused the very same One who encourages? Indeed, yes! For he is God and, because of this, our philanthropic Father entreats us. And look what happened! The Son of the One who is making the appeal is the mediator — not a human, nor an angel, nor an archangel, nor anyone of the household slaves.
And what did this mediator do? The work of a mediator! For it is as if two had been turned away from each other and since they were not willing to talk together, another one comes, and, placing himself in the middle, loosened the hostility of each of the two. And this is also what Christ did. God was angry with us, for we were turning away from God, our human-loving Master. Christ, by putting himself in the middle, exchanged and reconciled each nature to the other. And how did he put himself in the middle? He himself took on the punishment that was due to us from the Father and endured both the punishment from there and the reproaches from here.
Do you want to know how he welcomed each? Christ, Paul says, “redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.” You have seen how he received from on high the punishment that had to be borne! Look how also from below he received the insults that had to be borne: “The reproaches of those who reproached you,” Scripture says, “have fallen upon me.” Haven’t you seen how he dissolved the enmity, how he did not depart before doing all, both suffering and completing the whole business, until he brought up the one who was both hostile and at war—brought that one up to God himself, and he made him a friend?
And of these good things, this very day is the foundation. Receiving, as it were, the first fruits of our nature, he bore it up in this way to the Master. And indeed just as it happens in the case of plains that bear ears of corn, it happens here. Somebody takes a few ears, and making a little handful, offers it to God, so that because of the little amount, he blesses the whole land. Christ also did this: through that one flesh and “first-fruits” he made to be blessed our [whole] race. … … Therefore he offered up the first-fruits of our nature to the Father, and the Father was so amazed with the offering, both because of the worthiness of the One who offered and because of the blamelessness of the offering, that he received the gift with his hands that belonged, as it were, to the same household as the Son. And he placed the Offering close to himself, saying, ‘Sit at my right hand!’”
(S. in Ascensionem D.N.J.C., Migne 50.444-446, original translation.)
The English translation of this passage (by Edith Humphrey and her colleague Robert Gagnon) has appeared in several of Humphrey’s works, beginning with “Sacrifice and Sacrament: The Sacramental Implications of the Death of Christ,” in Oxford Handbook of Sacramental Theology. Eds. Boersma and Levering, 2015, page 76. Used by permission. All rights reserved.