Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Matt 28:16-20
Final moments with Jesus, Ascension, departure, a new presence, at the Father’s right hand, glorified. This Sunday we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord into heaven. In the Creed we confess our faith in Christ who "ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father". But what exactly do we mean by saying that he ascended into heaven? We mean that the Risen Lord is not only totally alive, but also that the Father has placed Christ at His right hand, an expression that signifies the Father glorifying Christ and making him the Lord of all creation. As we hear in today’s Gospel, to him "is given all power in heaven and on earth" (Mt. 28.18). Paul in the Second reading underlines the mystery of Christ being glorified. He says, God "put all things beneath his 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". The ascension, however, does not mean that Jesus renounced his humanity. He remains one of us and head of his Body, the Church. The celebration of the ascension is an expression of our Christian hope that where, He our Head has gone before us, there we, his Body will one day follow, to live forever in the Kingdom of the Father.
We must not think of the Ascension in terms of Christ going up and away from us and from the world, in purely scientific physical terms. That is the image I had as I was growing up; the image normally presented to us by artists. The Ascension is not to be understood literally as if Jesus floated up into the sky between clouds to “heaven”, as if heaven is a physical place. The Ascension is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to be always with us; with his Church. Above all it is a relationship with the Father, and God is everywhere in the whole universe. Jesus did not have to ‘go’ anywhere to be with his Father. The Ascension needs to be seen as part of the Paschal Mystery of Christ: the suffering and death; the resurrection; ascension; and the sending of the Holy Spirit. If the resurrection points to the crucified Jesus risen and alive, the Ascension points to the Risen Lord who now enters into the fullness of Father’s glory sharing equally the glory of the Father. In the language of faith, the ascension means "the entry" of Jesus into the complete and definitive communion with the Father, and there interceding for us. Jesus Christ enters into the fullness of the Father's glory, and makes it possible for those who belong to his Body, the Church, to follow. Indeed, Jesus' entry into the presence of the Father makes it possible for his Church to receive the Holy Spirit who is God's continual presence with us. The message of the Ascension may be summed up as follows: 1) The Ascension is about being present to us in a new way. This presence is different from physical presence. It is a presence that permeates and saturates the entire cosmos. For St. Paul the ascension as has a cosmic dimension, namely the overthrow of all demonic powers by Christ, who "has put all things under his feet". 2) The Ascension invites us to reflect on that mystery terms of Christ’s physical presence that comes to an end, yet that event ushers in a new and enduring presence in the Church through the Holy Spirit, as she goes out to proclaim the Good News. 3) The Ascension too leads us to discern Christ’s enduring presence in the Church – in Word and Sacrament, particularly the Eucharist, continually challenging us to an ongoing self-surrender. His self-surrender on the Cross, His resurrection and Ascension transforms us, and gives us the capacity to bring His presence into the world, as we proclaim His message to others.
©2017 John S. Mbinda