Jesus said to his disciples:
“Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.
The Christian faith is rooted in the revelation of God's intervention in human history. The times when God has intervened in human history have become the central doctrines which form the cornerstone, the bedrock of our faith. They are the incarnation, the resurrection, the ascension and the final one, which we look forward to, the second coming. There is a symphony and interlocking of these truths which constitute the mystery of faith we live and celebrate.
Today we focus on Jesus' penultimate intervention: his ascension into heaven. There is a very close correlation between Jesus' ascension and his return, his second coming. We believe that Christ will come again. Jesus himself promised this and it has been the hope of Christians from the very beginning. As the Lord ascended into heaven the angels announced: 'This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven' (Acts 1:11). There is a way in which on this holy feast we celebrate and look forward to the future of humanity.
The blessed hope of the Church is that we will be redeemed body and soul. On the last day our bodies will be reunited with our souls and we will enjoy forever the beatific vision - the sight of God, holy, beloved and adored. In this new reality we will enjoy the eternal bliss of being in God's presence for eternity.
The feast of the Ascension that we celebrate today was actually last Thursday – 40 days after Easter. This belief in the after-life is what the beautiful reading from the Ephesians is about today: With the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance… and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power…” (Eph 1.18-19) What a beautiful prayer that is – and such strange imagery: “With the eyes of your heart enlightened.”
How can our hearts have eyes, and how can our hearts see? The heart is the seat of love, and so, it isn’t our intellect which needs to see the light - the truth oft he kingdom of heaven- but our enlightenment will come through our hearts in the way we love others and have been loved back. That is what heaven is – a state of love, because as we saw a few weeks ago, God is love. The reading from Ephesians goes on to explain that Christ lives but that we have become his earthly body. Once he left the earth he has given us his Spirit so that we can carry on his work. As the Gospel of Luke says, he has sent us what God has promised, that we will be “clothed with power from on high”.
In the first reading from the Acts, Luke also uses the idea of a promise, and he explains this power by saying that John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. So that, even if Jesus was leaving the physical earth, he was not leaving his followers without help. We will be baptized and clothed with the Spirit.
The feast of the Ascension is a celebration of the day when Jesus stopped appearing to his disciples and was not with them any more in a physical sense. Now, we take on his body. Now, we need to become Christ for others. This feast of the Ascension, then, is a reminder for all of us, not just of what awaits us when we die, but what we need to do while still alive: how we can become the body of Christ, and how we can be helped, protected and loved by the Spirit – God’s gift to us.
As we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension today, let us not mourn the fact that Jesus left us on earth, but instead rejoice like the disciples. “They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy…” Because of the promise, the hope and the reminders he leaves us with, we have great reason for joy. Note that the Gospel ends with – “and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” The disciples were Jews – initially they didn’t change their religion or start a new one. What they saw, though, was that Jesus was a special gift from God, God’s own Son, who was equal to God because he was God in some unknown way, and that all praise is of God, who loves us and takes care of us.
Today, then, we celebrate with joy and confidence our future destiny: Christ in us the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). Jesus' ascension gives us, if you like, a glimpse into our future destiny. We don't often admit it but there is within each of us a desire and longing for permanence and a sense of not quite belonging on earth, a sense that our future lies beyond the grave. We resist the darkness that death is the end and cling to the hope of eternal life. The feast of the Ascension is an opportunity for us to deepen this understanding and appreciate in a new way that God is calling us to live with him forever and become partakers in the divine nature.
St. Valentine Faith Community
"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)