Ascension 2012 year B:
Today we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord into glory. This is an interesting feast day, because on the surface it is a bit odd for us to celebrate the day that Jesus left earth.
Ascending is not the same as departing. Listen to the words of the Eucharistic prayer: we celebrate the memorial of the saving passion of your Son, his wondrous Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven. You see in the mind of the Church the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus all form one mystery. The ascension is not fleeing or departing; rather, it is the completion of the resurrection. Jesus doesn’t rise from the dead simply to remain in the world as it is. Rather, he rises from the dead as a great victory, a conqueror, and he takes his place at the right hand of the Father, arrayed in glory. You might be thinking: that’s great for Jesus, he deserves that after his death and resurrection, but how does it relate to us who are still on earth?
I think there are 2 interesting aspects of the ascension that help us to see its importance in our lives. First, when Jesus goes up into heaven, he doesn’t simply disappear or vanish. Rather, he ascends in a bodily way. This should be for us a powerful reminder that the ascension is not so much about Christ leaving us, as it is about Christ taking us with him. Jesus does not leave behind his human nature, he takes it with him. So each and every one of us are still united to Christ in our common humanity. Jesus Christ is indeed the eternal son of the Father seated on his throne arrayed in Glory, but so are we, if you think about it. Christ takes us with him. Jesus doesn’t leave us at the ascension, instead he gives us a chance to leave behind sin, weakness, and the fallenness of our world because we are united to him and he is already enthroned in glory. We can share in that glory even now. We might not experience this glory in a full and complete way in this life, but we catch glimpses of it. Christian life is not simply a matter of trying to get to heaven someday; Christian life is about living heaven right now. This can only happen because of the ascension of our Lord into glory. So that is number 1, the ascension is not so much Christ leaving us as it is him taking us to be with God even now.
Number 2 Jesus never abandons us, rather he is with us in a new manner. We hear in the gospel that Jesus instructs the disciples to do many amazing things: healing and picking up serpents, etc. These things should strike us as crazy: but, that is the point, without Christ these things would be impossible, but Christ has not left us: he remains. I’m certainly not telling anyone to go buy deadly snakes or drink poisons, but think about the even more amazing things that people do all the time because of God’s help. I know of people who fight deadly diseases without losing hope, I know of people who overcome powerful addictions and get their lives back on track, I know of people who give their time, talent, and treasure for the good of their neighbor, I know of people who are scared, lonely, and hurting, but they keep fighting every day. In my opinion these things are even more amazing than handling deadly snakes. How do they do it? By the power of the Holy Spirit.
Next Sunday we celebrate the feast of Pentecost where the Spirit is poured out upon the Church. Christ never leaves us; rather, he is present through the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is shown most clearly in and through the Church. Christ continues to be among us in and through the Christian faithful. We are built up by the presence of Christ in the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, which is Christ’s body and blood. So while the ascension might look like Jesus’ departure from earth, through the Church and the sacraments we see that Christ is more present in the world, not less. In fact, the Church has spread to the corners of the earth to bring in more people to be united with Christ.
So today we celebrate the ascension of Our Lord into glory. We celebrate the fact that Christ has ascended to heaven and has taken all of us with him, and as members of his faithful it is our duty to spread this Good News to the end of the earth. For the ascension of Jesus is not the end of his mission; rather, the ascension of Jesus is his entrusting of that mission to all of us. Let us, together with the whole Church, pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us so that we might proclaim the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord to all the earth.