The Mystery of the Ascension: Where He has gone, We will follow

Ascension

… that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, hat are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, .. [Eph. 1:18]

In his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul assures his new converts that he constantly prays for them so that the Father of Glory may enlighten them with the Holy Spirit so they will come to truly appreciate the greatness and splendor of  their true calling in Christ. This calling from Christ and in Christ gives to Christians an inestimable hope for riches beyond our comprehension, that is, the riches of that glorious inheritance which belongs to God’s saints in Heaven.

It is significant that the Church chooses this Pauline passage for her celebration and commemoration of the Ascension of Jesus, who has now elevated our humanity far  beyond all the rest of creation to be seated next to the Father. Here Paul declares that Jesus has taken our humanity, which He now shares with us forever,

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]

This ascension of Jesus to the “right hand of the Father” is a deep mystery of our faith, a mystery in which not only Jesus but all the saints are involved as members of His Mystical Body, for as such we are caught up in all His mysteries. For everything that Jesus did on earth was done for us, and everything he now does in heaven is done for us, that is, for all those who, by virtue of His incarnation and by their baptism, will be one with Him forever. Our calling in Baptism, then, not only makes us one with Him in His humanity, but also, and even more wonderfully, it makes us one with Him in His divinity, by virtue of His gifts of grace already operating in us.

To summarize, our faith in the ascension teaches us that Jesus, as the God/Man, truly ascends above all creation to the very throne of God, that is, to the “right hand of the Father” as Paul says, which simply means He ascends as man now into the very life and rule of the Triune God. This means that in His humanity, which He has taken from us through Mary, our human nature as such has ascended into the very heights of God. Moreover, we also know from Scripture that Jesus told His apostles that He has gone ahead of us, ascended into heaven as man, precisely to prepare a place for us in Heaven, which ultimately means a place for us in the Triune God at the right hand of the Father.

There are so many wondrous aspects to this great mystery of our faith, the Paschal mystery which terminates in the Ascension of Jesus to the right hand of the Father, but Paul’s prayer immediately focuses our attention on the great hope that is given to us here and now as a result of His Ascension and His sending of the Spirit.

First, by our faith in the Paschal mystery we rejoice because God has redeemed us from eternal damnation, from the death of all deaths, by the atoning, sacrificial death of His Son Jesus.  By dying Christ has destroyed death in all of its various dimensions and meanings, but above all He has destroyed that most awful form of death which is the everlasting loss of God and His happiness.

Secondly, by our faith in the Paschal mystery, we rejoice because by rising from the dead, Jesus has restored our life, again in all of its various dimensions and meanings, but above all He has restored the supernatural life of God that we acquire in Baptism, the divine life that brings us an eternal joy and eternal happiness that fills us with happiness already here on earth.

But finally, our belief in the Paschal mystery, which includes His Ascension, fills us with even greater joy as we contemplate this ultimate aspect of His raising us to new Life, the aspect of sharing in Jesus’ glory at the right hand of the Father, for where the head is, the body must also in some real sense be present. This a hope that goes far beyond any destiny that man could ever possibly imagine.  Paul speaks of this hope many times, but never 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,”

Man perhaps could barely have imagined that he might live forever and what an unending life could be with Jesus. But who could ever have even begin to imagine that Jesus would take us this deep into the mystery of the Holy Trinity, that we would somehow come to share his life and glory at the right hand of the Father? But this is what the Fathers of the Church speak about when they preach the Ascension.

But for us, if we stop short of their interpretation, there is a possible danger in our delight in the mystery of our redemption from death, and our rising to an eternal life.  The danger is that we become understandably satisfied just to have escaped eternal death and unhappiness, so satisfied that we fail to appreciate just what an unimaginable destiny God has in store for those who truly love Him, as Paul says.

In both of these passages, Ephesians 1, our reading today, and 1 Corinthians 2, Paul is calling our attention to the unspeakable, ineffable mystery that is our ultimate destiny in Christ.  As I said, we poor mortals might understandably be perfectly satisfied just to escape the pains of hell and live on in some sense with God forever.  But Paul is trying here to raise our sights even much higher, to make us understand at least in some partial way what can never be fully expressed or understood in this world.  The astounding truth that Paul is preaching here is that where Jesus as man has gone in His Ascension,  He has truly called us to follow. The final destiny of every person who is “in Christ” by faith and baptism, and who truly loves Christ in the Spirit, is nothing less than to follow where He has gone, as the God/man, right into the very heart of the Triune God. As He Himself has told us,  He has ascended not just to return to His Father but to prepare a place for us in Him, there, in God, in heaven. For in the final analysis, God is our heaven, and our heaven is in God.

Beyond pointing out to us this astounding hope for an eternal life in God, at God’s right hand, in Christ to be sure, Paul can take us no farther in our understanding.  Just as we can know that God exists, but can 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 actually divinized us in Christ by His mighty grace. But we cannot really understand what this really means until we see it and live it in Eternity.

This deep truth of our divinization in Christ, where we partake of the divine nature itself in Him first by grace and finally by glory, is promised and spoken about in different ways in the New Testament.  But it is undoubtedly the true final object of our hope, based upon our faith in Jesus Christ, and nothing less must be allowed to take its place in our hearts.

The Apostles stood there looking up after Jesus has disappeared from their sight, until they were told by the heavenly messenger to head back to town and then continue to do what Jesus had told them. But in reality they will always be looking up from then on, and the Church as a whole will always be looking up to where Jesus is, and they will be, as Hebrews says, keeping [their] eyes fixed on Jesus, [Heb 12:2] in their prayer, in their worship, in their hearts.  Or again, they will follow Paul’s teaching when he says:  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 the true hope that we are keeping our eyes fixed on, and it is this hope that should motivate us in this world to accomplish whatever it is that Jesus the Lord has called us to accomplish for Him, and in Him.  For, 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 apostles then and it is true for us today.

Whenever we leave the Mass, after raising our minds and hearts to Jesus in worship of the Triune God, this hope is what we must take back into the world, as the Apostles did that day when they came down from the Mount of Olives.  How can we ever go forth with our heads down, with no joy in our hearts, like men without hope.  We have been called to the right hand of the Father in Jesus, to share in His life and kingship over creation forever.  Creation is ours, God is ours, we are all sharers in His royal destiny, the greatest of all sovereignties, that of the very kingdom of God.  In a sense, we are all like the hidden prince or princess in the fairy tale who is in the world even while not recognized by the world.

That is our faith and our hope. We are all spiritual royalty already crowned with His grace, and one day we will be crowned with His glory at God’s right hand.  If that doctrinal truth does not fill our heart with joy, there is something wrong either with our heart or our faith.  In Christ we all have conquered; in Christ we all will reign forever.  This is our faith, and this is the hope to which we have all been called. In Him, we all shall one day ascend above the very heavens.

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Categories: Homilies

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