Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:17-23; Mark 16:15-20
Imagine you are back in your parents’ home where you lived as a youngster and that you are exploring its attic filled with the many items collected from your family’s past history. Imagine yourself coming upon your grandmother’s trunk and how much you really want to discover what’s in it. To open it, however, you need to find a key.
The same is true with sacred scripture… you need keys in order to open up its various passages. We need a key to open up what is hidden in the suffering, death, resurrection, and the ascension of Jesus Christ to the to the right hand of the Father in heaven.
For today’s scripture the key is found in understanding that there is chronos time and there is kairos time. Chronos time is linear and quantitative. It is human time; we humans measure things by it. Kairos time is God’s time. Scripture tells us “in the fullness of time God sent His only-begotten Son into our world.” Normal events and the rules of nature are suspended and God disrupts things as He enters into our space and time according to His schedule.
To glean the meaning of the Ascension we need to see it in the Lord’s time. We need to see it in one Kairos event, namely as a part of the suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Actually it’s better to see it as the closing act of the drama that began with God’s Word coming down from heaven and becoming flesh in the Virgin Mary. The Ascension completes the circle. God our Father sends His son among us to gather us together in Him in a holy communion. He thereupon takes us back to our heavenly home, back to our Father. This is all because of God’s initiative; this is all God’s project, not ours. God accomplishes for us what we are powerless to bring about. To say it is the briefest of words, God our Father sends us His Son to bring us, His prodigal children, back home to heaven. United in Christ we are “taken up” into heaven.
St. Mark reports in this gospel account that Jesus was “taken 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 comes to us in a new way, a way that is just as sure as His coming to us that holy night in Bethlehem, coming to us from a universe above ours. It’s all in God’s time.
The Ascension of our Lord was the inauguration of His new presence among us. His visible presence has now passed into the sacraments, the “body language” of His Mystical Body, a body which no grave can contain. It is in His sacraments that we, 2000 years after His ascension “to the right hand of the Father,” can encounter Him. The Ascension is not a physical elevation, it is a qualitative elevation. In Christ our lives are “heightened” with Him so that with Him we can return to our Father in heaven.
The ascension of Jesus Christ is not His leaving us. 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 of time and space. Christ’s ascension inaugurates the coming of the Holy Spirit upon us to be with us until the end of the ages.
A long time ago there lived in England a holy man named St. Bede, known by historians as The Venerable 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.”
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 at work in the human soul. 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 He expresses them in our human works. Indeed the life of the Church is all about the workings of the Holy Spirit.
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. But because of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension resulting the Holy Spirit being sent down upon us, we are being made new again.
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.
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 and God will always be with us. 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 forever more. And may you one day, because of Jesus Christ, ascend into heaven.