A Cloud Took Him (Artful Devotion)

Houghton, Georgiana_The Risen Lord
Georgiana Houghton (British, 1814–1884), The Risen Lord, 1864. Watercolor and gouache on paper laid on board with pen and ink inscription on the reverse. Photo: Jessica Freeman-Attwood/Hyperallergic.

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

—Acts 1:1–9

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SONG: “Coelos ascendit hodie” (Ascended today into heaven) | Words: Anonymous, 12th century | Music by Charles Villiers Stanford, ca. 1892 | Performed by the Stanford Chamber Chorale and the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, under the direction of Stephen M. Sano, 2007

Coelos ascendit hodie
Jesus Christus Rex gloriae
Sedet ad Patris dexteram
Gubernat coelum et terram

Jam finem habent omnia
Patris Davidis carmina
Jam Dominus cum Domino
Sedet in Dei solio

In hoc triumpho maximo
Benedicamus Domino
Laudatur Sancta Trinitas
Deo dicamus gratias

English translation:

Jesus Christ, the King of Glory,
has ascended today into the heavens.
He sits at the right hand of the Father
and rules heaven and earth.

Now all the psalms of David,
our father, are fulfilled.
Now the Lord sits with the
Lord on the seat of God.

In this greatest of triumphs
let us bless the Lord.
The Holy Trinity be glorified.
Let us give thanks to God.

Stanford’s “Coelos ascendit hodie,” op. 38, no. 2, is a double-choir motet setting of a medieval Ascension hymn, the second piece in his Three Latin Motets set [previously].

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Consisting of “frenetic spirals of color and swirling sinuous lines” (source), The Risen Lord by Georgiana Houghton was produced in Victorian England some eighty years before abstract expressionism came onto the scene. Houghton renounced authorship of her artworks, believing herself to be a medium who channeled saints, archangels, Renaissance painters, and dead relatives to produce what she called “spirit drawings.” She was a Spiritualist, which means she believed in the possibility of contact with a spirit realm and that such communication could bring one closer to God. Ink and watercolors were, for her, a way of unveiling an invisible reality, of conveying God’s “wondrous attributes,” she said.

“On the back of most of her works, Houghton included a handwritten explanation, with illustrated annotations of the abstract forms,” Jessica Freeman-Attwood said. “In The Risen Lord Houghton writes that the lower part corresponds to the virtues and sufferings of Christ’s life on earth, whereas the upper part, dominated by arabesque white threads, represents his ascension into heaven.”

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Ascension Day is May 21 this year. For previous years’ devotions for the occasion, see “God Ascended” (featuring a German Renaissance painting and a clever repurposing and retuning of an eighteenth-century verse) and “Carried Up” (featuring a balletic Christ image by the late Javanese artist, dancer, and choreographer Bagong Kussudiardja, and a Romantic piano composition).


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Ascension of the Lord, cycle A, click here.

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