The Ascension of Christ Jesus
… that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you,
what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, .. [Eph. 1:18]
In his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul tells his new converts that he constantly prays for them, prays that the Father of Glory, God the Father may enlighten them with the Spirit, so that they might truly come to appreciate the greatness of their vocation, the splendor of their great calling by Christ. This high vocation gives to Christians an inexpressible hope for riches beyond our comprehension, that is, that glorious inheritance which belongs only to God’s saints.
It is significant that the Church chooses this passage for her celebration and commemoration of the Ascension of Jesus, who has taken our humanity up beyond all creation to the heavenly abode beside the Father, or, as Paul says,
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named,not only in this age but also in that which is to come..[Eph. 1:21]
The ascension of Jesus is a true mystery of our faith, and it is a mystery in which we ourselves are involved, as we are in all His mysteries. For everything Jesus does is for us, for all those who, by virtue of His incarnation, will be one with Him forever not only in His/our humanity, but also, even more wonderfully yet, in His divinity, by virtue of His grace operating in us. Jesus, as the God/Man, truly ascends to the very throne of God, to the “right hand of the Father,” which simply means to the proper domain of the Triune God. In His humanity, which He has taken from us, our own humanity has ascended to the heights of God. He told His apostles that He has gone ahead to prepare a place for us in Heaven, that is, in the Triune God, far above every “rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”
There are so many wondrous aspects to this mystery of our faith, the Ascension of Jesus to the right hand of the Father, but Paul’s prayer immediately focuses our attention on the hope that we have acquired as a result of His Ascension and His sending of the Spirit. First, we believe that God has redeemed us from eternal damnation, the death of all deaths, by the death and resurrection of Jesus. By dying He destroyed death in all its meanings, but above all death as the everlasting loss of God and happiness. Likewise, we believe that by rising from the dead, He restored our life in all of its meanings, but above all the life we acquire in Baptism, supernatural life, the life that brings us an eternal joy and happiness.
But here on the feast of the Ascension we see another aspect of this new life, the aspect of a hope that is ours beyond every hope that man simply as man could possibly even imagine. You see, there is a possible danger in our delight in the mystery of our redemption from death, and our rising to new life. The danger is that we become so satisfied just to have escaped eternal death and unhappiness, and so satisfied just to have been given a hope of living for ever in happiness, that we fail to appreciate just what God truly has in store for those who truly love Him. Paul speaks of this hope many times, but none more eloquently than in 1 Cor 2:9. You remember this,
“But as it is written: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him,”
In both of these passages, Ephesians 1 and 1 Corinthians 2, Paul is struggling to direct our attention to the unspeakable, ineffable mystery that is our destiny in Christ. We poor mortals might be satisfied just to live on in some sense with God, and escape the pains of hell. But Paul is struggling desperately to raise our sights much higher, to make us understand in some partial way what cannot be understood fully in this world. The full truth is that where Jesus has ascended, as man, He has called us to follow. The destiny of every man who is in Christ by faith and baptism, and who loves Christ in the Spirit, is to follow where He has gone, as the God/man, right into the very heart of the Triune God. He ascended to prepare a place for us there, there in God, in heaven, for in the final analysis, God is our heaven, and our heaven is God.
Beyond pointing to this astounding hope for an eternal life in God, at God’s right hand, in Christ to be sure, Paul cannot take us further. Just as we can know that God exists, but know only by faith that God loves us and has called us to be His children, so also we can only know by faith that God has called us in Christ to be at His right hand, that God has divinized us in Christ by His grace. But we cannot really see what this means until we see it, live it, in Eternity.
This divinization, where we partake of the divine nature itself, by grace and by glory, is promised and spoken about in different ways in the New Testament. But it is the object of our hope, based upon our faith in Jesus Christ, and nothing less must take its place in our hearts.
The Apostles stand there looking up after Jesus has disappeared from their sight, until they are told by the heavenly messenger now to head back to town and do as Jesus has told them. But in truth they will always be looking up, the Church will always be looking up, to where Jesus is, keeping [their] eyes fixed on Jesus, [Heb. 12:2], that is, in their prayer, in their worship, in their hearts. Again, as Paul teaches, If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. [Col. 3:1] This is our true hope that we are keeping our eyes fixed on, and it is this hope that motivates us in this world to accomplish whatever Jesus the Lord has called us to accomplish for Him, and in Him. If we ever lose sight of this hope, we will inevitably lose interest in the work He has sent us to do for him. It was true for the apostle and it is true for us.
Whenever we leave the Church, after rasing our minds and hearts to Jesus in worship of the Triune God, the hope that all this joy holds up for us is what we must take back into the world, as the Apostles did that day from the Mount of Olives. How can we go forth with heads down, with no joy in our hearts, like men without hope. We have been called to the right hand of God, to share His life and kingship over creation forever. Creation is ours, God is ours, we are sharers in a royal destiny, the greatest of all sovereignties, that of the very kingdom of God. We are all like the hidden prince or princess in the fairy tale who is in the world but not recognized.
We are all like that, already crowned with grace, and one day to be crowned with glory at God’s right hand. If that does not fill our heart with joy, there is something wrong with our heart, or something lacking to our faith. In Christ we have conquered; in Christ we will reign forever. This is our faith, and this is the hope to which we have all been called. We all shall one day ascend above the heavens.