Ascension with Christ

Ascension Sunday. Acts 1:1-11; Ps 47:2-3,6-9; Eph 1:17-23; Mt 28:16-20  

Today we celebrate Ascension Day, when our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven after forty days of appearances after his Resurrection. Of all the events following his Passion, death and Resurrection it is, perhaps, the strangest. Why does our Lord choose to depart from his disciples by ascending out of their sight? Where does he go? Above all, why does he leave? Could He not have stayed with us? It is these questions that I would like to address in today’s brief homily.

So why does Jesus choose to depart for us by ascending, and where does he go? The Second Reading tells us that Christ has taken his place at the right hand of the Father, above every principality, authority, power and dominion. This does not, of course, mean that the Kingdom of Heaven is located physically over our heads. The action of ascending does, however, signify glory, kingship and divinity. This action is also a sign of entering a larger, more spacious and glorious world – a world inaccessible to us without God’s help. Ascension is, therefore, a powerful and helpful symbol of Jesus Christ entering Heaven in his glorified human nature.

So the Ascension signifies Christ entering Heaven, but why is this necessary? Jesus appeared to his disciples for forty days after the Resurrection. Could he not have carried on appearing? It is clearly within God’s power for him to remain or to depart, but why was it better for him to leave? Everything Jesus does is in some way connected to our salvation, so the Ascension of our Lord into Heaven must have some bearing on our salvation. But in what way does the Ascension help us?

The answers to this question are, I think, all related to the nature and purpose of Heaven. At the very least, the Ascension is a reminder that this present and passing world is not our final home. Everything in this present universe is temporary. All physical things on earth decay; the galaxies are slowly receding beyond our sight and the stars are gradually burning out. If we are to live forever, it will not be in this universe. What makes this life precious is that this is where God prepares us for Heaven, if we surrender to his grace. Jesus’ Ascension gives us hope. It is a sign that there is another place, not only for Jesus Christ, but for ourselves as his disciples: a place God is preparing for us, a kingdom free from bondage to decay where our resurrected human bodies will be at home.

So the Ascension helps to teach us about our true and final home, but Scripture also suggests that it brings us spiritual benefits as well. We do not fully understand these benefits, but we are told that Christ has entered the heavenly sanctuary as our high priest. Christ has appeared before God on our behalf, bringing his own blood as a living sacrifice that takes away our sins. When, during the Mass, Jesus Christ is present on the altar as our sacrifice, we also participate in an activity in heaven. Another way of understanding this connection is by an image given to us by St. Catherine of Siena. St. Catherine saw a vision of Christ as a great bridge, stretching from earth into heaven. Christ remains present to us here, through the Church and the sacraments. But Christ, after his Ascension, is also in the presence of the Father in his human nature. So the Ascension completes the span of the bridge. The great choice in life is then either to remain in the river of sin flowing away from God, down into ruin and eternal death, or to cross the bridge of Christ into the eternity of Heaven.

So, the Ascension gives us hope that there is a permanent place for us, a place of rest. The Ascension also completes the means for us to reach that final home. Like the disciples in the First Reading, we have to be active in this world. We should, however, keep our interior gaze, the longing of our hearts, fixed on reaching our true home – with Christ and his saints in the glory of Heaven.

Fr. Andrew Pinsent, St. Ambrose Church, St. Louis, 4th May 2008

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