Beloved in Christ!
With what tenderness must have Jesus looked upon his apostles and disciples gathered on Mount Olivet…
Those final moments when they were alone, forty days after he rose from the dead…
With what joy did he look into each of their eyes that last time he saw them in his human body on this earth, flooding his heart with their face and the dearest memories of who they were, their characteristics, their love for him, their potential, their spiritual growth in the previous three years. Memories of conversations, struggles and victories, secrets of their heart…
These beloved friends who had been such a part of his life and mission and paschal mystery (yes, even in their failure, for their betrayals and fleeing from the cross have given us hope in our own fears and disloyalty)…
As he blessed them… And withdrew from them… Here still in his blessing… Taken from their sight…
“When Jesus had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight” (Acts 1:9).
The ascension was a moment of tremendous transition for Jesus, for Mary, for the Apostles and disciples, for Mary Magdalene and the women who had faithfully tended to their needs. Yes, clearly Jesus had gone and, as the angels said, would return one day. They had been told by Jesus to return to Jerusalem to await the coming of the Spirit. (And what a transition that was for these fearful and self-centered novices of the Lord who became the fearless messengers of the risen Jesus who had loved them, filling the world with his holy Name!)
But there is another hidden transition that affects you and I as well. Today. Right now. And how we need to hear this good news!
If Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, we are as well.
We dwell not only here on earth, looking forward to the happiness of heaven in an eternity beyond time, but now… right now… you and I… as members of the body of Christ who is our Head… as children of God… as inheritors of the kingdom of heaven… We dwell eternally in glory even now.
Ascension is not just about Jesus, his destiny, his glory…. It’s not like we peer into a heaven to see the Lamb seated on the Throne while we trudge through our lives on this earth alone… The ascension is about our present reality… here… now… today….
The truth is, “Jesus is not glorified in his own Person only. His Apostles had fed upon him [and so have we], had his body within them, by virtue of the Holy Eucharist…. Now upon his Ascension, His body in them is glorified instantaneously with the glorifying of his body at the right hand of God. Like an electric flash the glory of the Spirit shines out in the fires of Pentecost. The body of Christ, however veiled in our flesh, in our sinful persons, nevertheless cannot but have the glory of the Spirit of holy fire burning and resting upon it. We do not, I think, dwell as we ought to dwell upon the present glorification of our nature in our own persons, as members of the glorified body of Christ” (Benson, Richard Meux Further Letters, pages 268-269).
If Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, we are as well, as members of his body.
So, friends, look to the glory.
As Paul reminds us, “and all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The Mass is a remembrance of Christ’s passion and pledge of future glory. In the Eucharistic liturgy the Ascension is celebrated again and again by us, in via, on the way. It is the holy banquet in which Christ is received. “Here heaven and earth meet, constellated around the ascended Christ who brings humanity into the very heart of the Godhead…. We need to rekindle the Catholic eschatological imagination: to realize anew Jesus Christ’s ascension as inaugurating the transfiguration of humanity and to envision boldly the cosmic scope and implications of that decisive and ongoing event” (Fr Robert Imbelli, Ongoing Ascension, May 10, 2018).
So, friends, may this year’s celebration of the Ascension and Pentecost be a moment of transition for you. We are invited in each Mass to lift up our hearts and we exclaim, “We have lifted them up to the Lord!” Raise your eyes from this earth. Upwards! Lift up your hearts! Dwell already where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:2).
Image Credit: Benjamin West, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons