Bridging Heaven and Earth
Ascension Sunday. Acts 1:1-11; Ps 47:2-3,6-9; Eph 4:1-13; Mk 16:15-20
Today's Feast of the Ascension commemorates the ascent of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven after forty days of appearances after his Resurrection. St. Mark's Gospel describes the Lord Jesus as being 'taken up into heaven' and taking his seat at the right hand of God. The Letter of St Paul to the Ephesians says that Jesus ascended "far above all the heavens that he might fill all things." The First Reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, describes him as being 'lifted up' until a cloud takes him from their sight, and ends with the promise that Jesus, "who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way."
Now at first the event of the Ascension might seem somewhat disconnected from our lives. After all, if Jesus is God and God can do anything, then being lifted up off the earth is no more surprising than any other miracle. What is especially significant about this event, however, is highlighted by the statement that the Lord Jesus "takes his seat at the right hand of God." Since Jesus is already God, this passage cannot refer to a change in the divine nature of Jesus Christ, because the nature of God transcends time and does not change. God cannot, therefore, take his seat at the right hand of God, because the Son is always with the Father. What does change is in regard to the human nature of Jesus Christ, that is, the Son of Mary. It is the human nature of Christ that ascends "far above the heavens, that he might fill all things," and it is the human nature of Christ that takes his seat at the right hand of God. Now the body of Christ does not ascend in the same way as a person might lift up a stone or that the human body can be lifted up by machines of one kind or another. The glorified and Resurrected body of Christ is simply unconstrained by the limitations of an essentially two-dimensional existence, free of the constraints of space and time. What is most important about this freedom, however, is that the glorified body of Jesus Christ enters heaven, symbolized by his physical ascent, and enters the very presence of God Himself. So while ordinary human nature is, in itself, remote from God, the Resurrected human nature can gaze on the face of God in heaven.
Understood in these terms, the relevance of the Ascension to ourselves becomes more clear. While the human mind can range over space and time, the present human body is bound to an essentially two-dimensional existence. Now human beings have long had a yearning to escape this limitation. Hence the superheroes of popular culture, in particular the superman, a distant derivative of the work of Nietzsche, are almost always portrayed as being capable of flight. What the Ascension of Jesus shows us, first, is that the Resurrected human body does not suffer from this limitation: the Resurrected body can go wherever the beatified soul desires. What is most significant, however, is that Jesus' human nature is described as sitting at the right hand of God. In an image given to us by St Catherine of Siena, it is as if the human nature of Jesus Christ has become like a great bridge, stretching from our present earthly life into the presence of God in heaven. If, therefore, we remain united with Christ on earth, by means of the grace of the sacraments, we can cross this bridge into the presence of the Father. In particular, when the time of our death comes upon us, we too can leave this world with the hope that one day we will live, body and soul, in the presence of God in heaven.
May God give us a deeper understanding of the hope to which we are called, by means of the Ascension. May we persevere in grace throughout our lives, following Christ even to the point of death, and so one day enter, body and soul, into the glory of the saints.
Father Andrew Pinsent, St. Ambrose Church, St. Louis, 24th May 2009
© Fr Andrew Pinsent. Academic Web Site.