...as they were looking on,
The Ascension is one of the great feasts in the Christian liturgical calendar, and commemorates the bodily ascension of Jesus into heaven and His completion of the work of our redemption. Ascension Day is always Thursday (the fortieth day of Easter); in some churches (especially in the United States) it is commemorated on the subsequent Sunday (the Sunday before Pentecost). The Feast presents us an opportunity to assess the relationship between our profession of faith and its manifestation in our daily lives.
he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.
Many times we tend to focus on the vision of Christ ascending towards heaven as being the only important event or message of this Holy Day of Obligation. The message and significance of Christ’s ascension actually encompasses much more and brings with it a very beautiful and amazing message of hope and a promise of a magnificent future, and with it Christ’s guiding words on how we can attain it.
Having celebrated Easter we heard of Jesus’ resurrection. However, having risen from the dead, Christ did not ascend immediately into heaven. The risen Christ stayed on earth for 40 days after His resurrection. During this time He appeared to many people in His glorified body. He did this, in part, as proof of His resurrection. If no one had seen Him then there would be no proof of His resurrection and no witnesses to attest to it. Jesus also had to complete the training and commissioning of His 12 disciples.
Jesus Christ has bridged heaven and earth. All that separated us from the Father has been definitively dealt with and we have been redeemed. We are now in the process of being re-created anew in Him as we freely cooperate with His grace at work within us and mediated through His Body, the Church, through the Word and the Sacraments which communicate His Divine Life.
- At the Last Supper on Holy Thursday night He made the apostles priests.
- Easter Sunday night He complemented their priesthood with the power to forgive sins.
- When Christ appears to them at another time, He fulfills His promise to Peter to make him (Peter) head of His church.
- Christ explains to the apostles the Holy Spirit, who will stay behind (until He comes again) and will serve as the life-giving Spirit in His church.
- Christ outlines to the apostles their future course of action.
- Finally on Mt. Olivet, on the day we commemorate as Ascension Thursday, Christ gives His apostles their final command to go and preach the Gospel to the whole world; giving them His final blessing, He ascends towards heaven.
The Ascension of Jesus is much more than His return to heaven. It is much more meaningful than Jesus departing from the earth. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ascension as “The act of rising or increasing to higher levels, values, or degrees”. Christ’s ascension was not so much spatial as it was metaphysical. He became a higher being. Christ was elevated, enhanced, transfigured (given a new and typically exalted or spiritual appearance).
In the book The Faith Explained, It states that Jesus was “spiritualized”, freed from the limitations of the physical world. It goes on to say:
“It was (and is) a body that could no longer suffer or die; a body that radiated the brightness and beauty of a soul united with God; a body that physical matter could not impede…a body which had no need to travel by laborious steps, but which could pass from place to place with the speed of thought; it was a body freed from such organic necessities as food and drink and sleep.”
The reason that this should bring us great joy and hope is that not only has Christ risen from the dead, but the great news is that we will also rise from the dead and share in this glorified state of being. Every time we say the Apostles’ Creed we proclaim that “…we believe in the resurrection of the body…”. When Jesus comes again, our soul will be reunited with our new glorified body to live in union with God for all eternity!
Before Christ ascended, He not only gave His disciples guidance on how they could attain this resurrection and glorification, but He was speaking to all of us; past, present and future.
“Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him. Listen to the words of the Apostle: If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth. For just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.” (Liturgy of the Hours)
We are on a constant life pilgrimage heading towards the Eucharistic Kingdom (a place where we will be in spiritual communion with God) which Jesus has prepared for us. Every time we go to Mass we are reminded to keep our eyes fixed towards the heavens, but that in order to reach our destination we must also keep our eyes fixed on the greater obligation of the work that we must do on earth. Each one of us is an instrument of God and we all have been given a gift by the Holy Spirit that has equipped us to help in this task of helping Jesus finish what He started. Our entire existence should be to work towards finding that mission that God has given specifically to each and everyone of us. We must do as the angels instructed the apostles and stop looking into space, but get to work.
When Christ ascended, He left with the intention that we take up where He left off. Christ rules and reigns over the church and coordinates the works of the church as He governs and guides over her. This should give us strength in knowing that although He ascended he never truly left us. He is Love Incarnate (love in bodily form) and will walk forever through time in each and every one of us.
“Where the Head is, there is the Body, where I am, there is my Church, we too are one; the Church is in me and I in her and we two are your Beloved and your Lover.” In other words, we have ascended with the Lord! He is the Head and we are members of His Body.
Jesus said “Abide in me as I in you” (John 15:4). These are not mere religious sentiments, but reality now because of what has occurred through the “Paschal Mystery”; the saving life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. Living, abiding in Christ is meant to become our daily reality. In the past, the Christ (Paschal) Candle, was extinguished on Ascension Thursday, representing the physical departure of Christ from the earth. Now, the Christ Candle remains lit through Pentecost (through the entire Easter season) symbolizing that although Christ ascended, He never truly left us. On the day of Christ's ascension the apostles more fully understood that Jesus was God and that He would forever be with them, as we rejoice in that knowledge today.
We have ascended with Him and are called to live on earth the very realities of heaven. This Feast is not only a remembrance of an event that occurred thousands of years ago but a reminder of the promise of a life to come, a reminder of the mission and marching orders that we have all been given, and a reminder, that we too, must become enflamed like the apostles, with the deep desire to worship God and go out to the ends of the earth speaking His praises.
Lead your life according to this great belief,
Where Christ has gone, He invites us to follow.