Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven

1. In His Ascension to Heaven, Jesus took His place at the right hand of the Father. It is important to remember that Jesus did not leave His human body behind, as if it were a machine or a mere container or even some form of prison. Rather, Jesus ascended in the totality of His humanity (together with His divinity), a totality which included His whole person, body and soul. That is what happened in the Ascension of our Lord, but what does it mean?
2. Saint Paul refers to Jesus as the new Adam- that is the new Man (human) (1 Corinthians 15:45). Whatever happens to Him is destined to happen to us (1 Corinthians 15:48). To be fully human, we must be like the New Man who is Jesus the Christ. In His resurrection, Jesus has conquered the power of death for every human being. We still die, but death will not have power over us. In the Ascension, we discover that the whole human person is the subject of redemption and salvation and glory, not merely the spirit or the mind. Just as all of Resurrected Jesus ascended into heaven, so will the full completeness of our resurrected selves go to heaven on the last day (if we are in union with Jesus the Christ). As wonderful and glorious as Jesus’ resurrection was, that was not all He came to accomplish. Human beings are not destined for this life and this existence alone. God has made us for much more.
3. Jesus told His disciples that there were many dwelling places in His Father’s house and that He was going to prepare a place for us (John 14:2-3). That is our true destiny- life in the house of the Father forever- without sorrow, without suffering, without want.
4. But there is a catch. In the Acts of the Apostles, as the disciples stood looking up into heaven after Jesus ascended, the angel of the Lord told them that Jesus indeed was going to return at a time of God’s choosing (See Acts 1:1-11). However, those who are His followers have a job to do. In the Gospel, Jesus told them Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15). In Acts, He said you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). We may be destined for eternal life in Heaven, but in the meantime we must obey the will of the Father and the instructions of the Son.
5. The mission of proclaiming the Gospel to every creature belongs to every Christian regardless of age, status, or position. In fact whether we like it or not, we are witnesses of Jesus Christ. We might be bad witnesses and tell lies about Him, or we might be good witnesses and tell the truth. But whatever we say, do, or think will not be without effect. The ultimate goal of this mission of course, is the salvation of the whole world. This task is serious business, too. Jesus said Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:16).
6. It is serious for us, because the Lord wants us to have salvation, therefore we must believe and be baptized (not just be baptized). That does not mean that our belief must be fully formed. Certainly the apostles are ample proof of that. Jesus chose them and they had to grow in knowledge and wisdom. But we must believe.
7. The act of belief has two aspects. The first aspect is consent to hold the Good News of Salvation in our minds and hearts. To make this kind of assent, we must grow in knowledge. Because if the faith does not grow, it will wither. The Christian is obligated to learn more about the truths of our faith. Some people describe to me what they interpret to be a period of doubt in their lives. And it is not doubt- it is the desire to know and understand more. God is permitting it so that we will be motivated to learn.
8. Another aspect of faith is trust. This aspect is probably more important than gaining intellectual knowledge. Trust is an acknowledgment that we do not have all the answers, that we cannot save ourselves, that we are not in control, and yet, we will follow Jesus anyway. Faith as Trust is plunging into the dark cloud of unknowing, placing ourselves at the disposal of God for His Glory and our good. Trust is Mary saying be it done to me according to thy word (Luke 1:38) and Peter saying to whom shall we go Master, you have the words of eternal life (John 6:68).
9. The Ascension also means hope for us. The angel told us that Jesus would come back again in glory. Jesus Himself works through the Church with through the sacraments and the teaching capacity of the bishops, as well as through miracles and signs. Jesus said He would not leave us orphans (John 14:18), and He has not. In truth, at the right hand of the Father, Jesus is more present to His Church than He was walking the earth.

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