The Sursum Corda as the Ascension of the People of God

The Sursum Corda as the Ascension of the People of God

ascension

A very important, but sometimes overlooked, aspect of liturgical worship is that of ascension in worship. You may be unfamiliar with this concept, yet it has been part of the Church’s teaching on worship from the earliest days. The Early Church Fathers set forth a doctrine called the Ascension of the Church. The Ascension they were talking about was neither Christ’s bodily ascension after His Resurrection, nor the Second Coming at the end of time. Rather it was the Church’s constant and progressive drawing nigh to Christ in worship in order to behold His glory, rejoice in His presence, and receive His grace.

The author of the Book of Hebrews explains it this way: “you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumberable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant” (Hebrews 12:22-24). In other words, the Communion of Saints is composed of those living on earth, and the souls of those who have passed on above. That assembly gathers regularly with myriads of angels to worship the King on His throne, and feast with King Jesus at His banquet table. The Church Father Germanus in A.D. 715 commented upon this teaching. He said: “The souls of Christians are called together to assemble with the prophets, apostles, and hierarchs in order to recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the mystical banquet of the Kingdom of Christ. Therefore having come into the unity of faith and communion of the Spirit through the grace of Him who died for us and is sitting at the right hand of the Father, we are no longer on earth, but standing by the royal Throne of God in heaven, where Christ is, just as He Himself says in John 17: ‘Righteous Father, sanctify in Your name those whom You gave me, so that where I am, they may be with Me’.” John Calvin in keeping with the historic Church taught the Ascension of the Church in worship. He wrote: ‘In order that pious souls may duly take hold of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, they must be raised up to heaven. And for the same reason it was established of old that before consecration the people should be told in a loud voice to ‘lift up their hearts’.” During the exchange of the Sursum Corda between the priest and congregation, we mystically (beyond human comprehension) enter into the worship of heaven. We are called to “lift up our hearts” because worship brings the people of God mysteriously near to the throne of God where Christ is seated. So, today as we come to the Sursum Corda and prepare to partake of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, be mindful of the fact that we are given a special privilege by God. We are given a foretaste of Heaven where we will sit at the great Banquet Table of Christ and commune perfectly with God and each other forever.

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