The feast of the Ascension of our Lord is part of the Easter mystery. First is the Resurrection in which Jesus conquers death for us and reveals that life for us will never end.
Then there is the Ascension in which Jesus is taken up into heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand.
And finally Pentecost in which God pours forth his Spirit upon the church and all humankind.
All three experiences are intertwined; they reveal different aspects or facets of the same reality. The Scriptures separate them over 50 days to afford us the opportunity to reflect on each aspect of the one Easter mystery.
Now, let’s look at today’s feast, the Ascension.
At the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostle (the first reading ~ Acts 1:1-11), written by the same author as Luke’s gospel, describes the experience . . . .
Then Jesus told them not to depart from Jerusalem but to “wait for the promise of the Father of which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
He, of course, was referring to Pentecost.
. . . Then he said,
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you
AND YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, and to the ends of the earth.”
Then Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.
They stood there, awestruck, spellbound .
Then two men dressed in white garments stood beside them and said,
“Men of Galilee, why are standing there looking at the sky?
This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
This feast is about heaven, but also about earth.
Jesus is taken into heaven; that is, he returns to his Father where he sits at the Father’s right hand.
And the second reading from Ephesians states that. . . .
God the Father “put all things beneath Christ’s feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” (Ephesians 1:23)
Thus, there is a cosmic dimension to Christology. The great mystic and theologian Father Teilhard de Chardin talked about “Christogenesis” – the entire universe evolving by the power of Christ’s all-embracing love. When Chardin was far away from bread or wine and could not celebrate Mass, he talked fervently and passionately about the “Mass on the world” – that the whole planet was the body of Christ.
So we think about Jesus as Lord of the Universe, and we pray that people on earth would somehow find ways to stop the violence and inhumanity toward each other.
And so the feast of Ascension is also about earth.
The angels ask the disciples — Why are you standing there looking up in the sky? Brothers and Sisters, you and I have work to do!
YOU MUST BE MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
A witness is one who knows with one’s own eyes and ears what has taken place.
A witness is one who has filtered through one’s own senses what one’s own account of the truth is.
I consider myself a witness to the resurrection. I have had enough experiences of risen life–even of mystical experience–that I am convinced that Jesus is real; that he lives and reigns today in our world, that he empowers us through his Spirit. Throughout my life I have found myself immersed in the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I know this also, because Jesus has allowed me the ability to share his life with others, and they with me. Many others have deepened and enriched their faith as the Holy Spirit worked through me.
So Jesus, gone to heaven, gives authority to his apostles and disciples on earth.
Brothers and sisters, we have work to do. We are put on notice in the scriptures of today’s feast.
Next Sunday we will attend to the third aspect of the Easter mystery–Pentecost–the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all humankind.
During the coming week may we pray that the Holy Spirit would renew each of us individually, the whole Church of God and indeed the whole world!
But before we go, it is well to be aware that we tend to be misled by the metaphors in the poetic images we use for heaven such as clouds and sky and cute pink cherubs flying around that are meant to signal how heaven transcends our world.
Yet heaven isn’t a geographical place or space far away. The Risen and ascended Jesus acts as Lord of the church, our world and the cosmos, right here, right now. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “it would be a mistake to interpret the Ascension as a ‘the temporary absence of Christ from the world.” Rather, “we go to heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and “enter into him.” Heaven is a person. Jesus himself is what we call heaven,” wrote the pope emeritus.
Now, before you go, here’s the Psalm for the day “God mounts his throne,” And be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen. Click here.