Thursday: May 5, 2016 –– The Ascension of the Lord
Ever since the first disobedience the full glory of God and his truth has been veiled from our world. While the glory of God is certainly present in all of Creation’s splendor, human perception is blurred, distorted, and sometimes blind. There is a “flat” way of looking at what we think is reality.
So, physically, if I am “here” I cannot be “there”. There is a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) mentality. This is so dominant that it continues to infect us as Christians. While giving assent to many orthodox details, it seems that too many people do not “connect the dots.”
So, for example, we affirm that Jesus is bodily present in the Eucharist. Jesus is here! Yet just a few minutes before the Real Presence happens on our altars, we affirm in the Creed that Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. And even as Jesus is both on the altar at our parish and seated at the right hand of the Father, he is also present in countless other churches around the world. There is a mystery here. It goes beyond our “flat” understanding of the world. Jesus is in heaven. Jesus is here.
On this Solemn Feast of the Ascension we rejoice and celebrate that Jesus bodily ascended into heaven. Why? How is the Ascension really significant for us?
There is a little phrase that occurs especially in St Paul’s letters again and again. It is simply in Christ (or in him). This little word in is pregnant with meaning. In Christ is explosive, and it’s our identity.
Jesus goes ahead of those who follow him and in every way he leads and opens and achieves for us what we could never do for ourselves. It starts in Baptism. Jesus was baptized for us, and when we are baptized we start a journey of faith that is based in Christ.
When we are in Christ, all that Jesus does becomes the paradigm of our personal salvation. When Jesus lives obedience to the Father…. when Jesus suffers…. when Jesus dies… when Jesus rises from the dead…. it is all for us. When we follow him, he leads us into and through each of those things, and they are our salvation. The Ascension tells us that what Jesus did up to and through his death and resurrection was not enough! After Jesus was risen he ascended into heaven.
This is not just because heaven is Jesus’ true home; it is because heaven is also our true home. And how shall we get to heaven? Yes, it is through the death of Jesus for our sins and his rising in victory over death. But it does not stop there. We have hope of heaven because Jesus, our Savior, ascended into heaven ahead of us––for us––to lead us there.
Now here is where it gets mystical and yet truly relevant to us in the here and now. Just as Jesus, ascended, is in heaven and sitting at the right hand of the Father and yet is also physically present with us in the Eucharist––in other words, both in heaven and on earth at the same time, the same is also true of us in a mystical way!
Christ is the Head; we are the Body. St Augustine’s closing words in the Office of Readings for today affirms: “the body as a unity cannot be separated from the head.” When Jesus ascended into heaven, he took us there with him. When we gather to worship and feed on the Body and Blood of our Lord, he is here with us. Both are true all the time.
Yes, our physical bodies are still quite limited here on earth. In our bodily existence we have joys and sorrows, exhilarations and pains. Yet something else is true. This is how St Paul expresses it to the Colossians: Since you have been raised up in company with Christ, set your heart on what pertains to higher realms where Christ is seated at God’s right hand. After all, you have died! Your life is hidden now with Christ in God (Colossians 3:1ff). Our hearts are in Christ, our Head, in heaven.
As Christians we are in Christ. He has gone ahead of us in every way to make our salvation possible. We follow him in death to cancel the debt of sin. We follow him in resurrection for victory over death. We follow him in ascension to our home in heaven.
But in the meantime, while our physical bodies are still on earth, our “hearts” are with Christ in heaven. When some earthly pleasure wants to steal our hearts away, we remember that our hearts are not our own––they are in Christ in heaven. When some earthly pain threatens to crush the very life out of our souls, we remember that our hearts are not our own––they are in Christ in heaven.
Jesus has ascended. Because we are in Christ, we follow him––today and every day until our physical death––to our true home. That is salvation––in Christ.