Fr. Charles Irvin
Solemnity of the Ascension [C] – 2013
Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:17-23; Luke 24:46-53
The nights are warm now. Sometimes I step outside and looking up marvel at all of those stars sprinkled all over the night sky. In such moments I have asked myself if there is another parallel universe that we don’t see, one that has other dimensions not subject to human measurements of time, space, weight and volume. I think there is. Because of Jesus Christ I am certain there is.
A long time ago there lived in England a holy man named St. Bede. He lived from 673-735A.D. Among the things he wrote are the following words he penned while meditating on the death of loved ones. “We seem to give them back to you, O God, who gave them first to us. Yet as you did not lose them in giving, so we do not lose them by their return. Not as the world gives do you give. What you give you do not take away. For what is yours is also ours. We are yours and life is eternal. And love is immortal, and death is only a horizon, and a horizon is but the limit to our sight.”
God our Father has sent His Son to us not to condemn us but to show us that He loves us. He wants to save us, to save us by being joined into His Son and with His Son to return to Him, our Father in heaven. With that in mind, what is God telling us in His word for us today?
God our Father sent Christ Jesus to us from another universe, one beyond anything that we could imagine. A heavenly star guided sage visionaries to find Him in a manger. Unearthly beings, beings we call angels, announced His arrival. The whole scene is set in another dimension, one that cannot be measured or judged as we normally measure and judge things. A parallel universe intersected with our universe in that moment. Those wise men, those magi, glimpsed through a star gate and saw the unimaginable enter into our space and time. What was intangible became tangible through Mary, lying there as He was in a little animal-feeding trough.
The Child grew and became a man, working miracles and giving us teachings that defy our human measurements, proofs, and categories. At the end of His life among us His disciples had to experience two departures. One departure was at the Last Supper when He said His goodbyes. The other departure, His ascension, found them better prepared.
When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples at Pentecost and they received His inspirations they realized that these departures were, after all, not really departures. Oh, perhaps a scientist would say they were, but they were events that really cannot be measured. Even using the word “up” isn’t adequate.
St. Luke reports in this gospel account we just heard that Jesus was “carried up to heaven.” Immediately we associate the word “up” with a directional measurement. But it’s a mistake to do so. The word “up” is used in the sense of telling us that Jesus entered another dimension, a higher and greater dimension. He was taken up into the parallel universe from which He came to us in the first place, a universe we call heaven.
It isn’t proper to call His ascension a “departure.” It wasn’t a departure anymore than His death on the cross was a departure… a going away from us. Christ’s ascension into heaven is parallel to His Easter resurrection. Both are inaugurations of a new Presence. God has not left us – God has instead come to us in a new way, a way that is just as sure as His coming to us that night there in Bethlehem, coming to us from a universe beyond the stars we can see in the night sky.
St. Paul writes to us in his Letter to the Romans, “For I am certain of this: neither death nor life, no angel, no prince, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, not any power, or height or depth, nor any created thing, can ever come to between us and the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) That passage is often used in funeral liturgies. It speaks not of loss but of gain – the gain of God’s presence, power, and love that comes to us in Christ Jesus.
No, the ascension of Jesus Christ is not His leaving us. It’s not a departure. It is, like His mysterious birth, the inauguration God’s presence to us in a totally new way, a way that we cannot measure or put into any of our puny little human categories.
The Church’s liturgies will now focus on Pentecost and the time after Pentecost. With Pentecost we have yet another inauguration of God’s Presence among us. In the life and the acts of the Church, the Holy Spirit is now at work in human souls. That is what the Book of Acts in the New Testament is all about. Some theologians like to speak of the Book of Acts as the “Book of the Holy Spirit”. It reveals to us the marvelous works of God as expressed in our human works. Indeed the life of the Church is all about the workings of the Holy Spirit in our humanity.
Our human responses to God’s presence have not been what they should be. We are “being redeemed sinners”; we are a work in progress. Our sins, our failures, our rejection of God’s loving presence is found in both secular human history as well as in the history of the Church. All of the human depravity that was present in Christ’s suffering, passion and death did not end with His resurrection and ascension, it continues on in our unredeemed humanity, as we so very well know.
Some claim that God failed. Others live as if Christ was a failure. Still others simply don’t seem to care. Is this God’s fault? Or is it our fault? The answer is obvious. Failure is ours.
It was by the power of the Holy Spirit that Christ was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. During His life, Jesus manifested the power of God’s Holy Spirit at work in His miracles. By the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus was raised from the dead to become the Christ of glory. And now, because of His ascension back to the Father, Christ with His Father sends us the Holy Spirit. This points to the necessity of Christ’s ascension, His movement into that higher world, that universe that is God’s. For without Christ’s Ascension Pentecost would not have happened.
God is with us. God has always been with us. God will always be with us in the future. The Ascension is not His departure; it is the ushering in of His new way of being with us, His presence among us now in His Holy Spirit.
How, then, will we respond? Human history reveals responses that are both good and bad. The saints, however, reveal God’s Holy Spirit at work within us. Your lives and mine can do the same. May Christ, by the power of His Holy Spirit, be with you now and forevermore. And may you, one day, ascend in Christ into heaven.