Reflection: The Lord’s Ascension
Theme: “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.”
Lk 24:51 reports: “he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven.” Acts 1 reports with more details: v.3 “during forty days” Jesus was appearing to his disciples “speaking of the Kingdom of God;” v.9 continues: “as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight;” v.12 tells us that this happened on the “Mount of Olives.” Luke alone gives us the time and place and the ocular witnesses to the ascension of the Lord. Other passages will affirm the exaltation of Jesus: “He was taken up in glory” (1 Tim 3:16). God put “everything in subjection under his feet” (Hb 2:9). Hb 4:14 claims that “we have a high priest who had passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God.” Two statements are actually taken from only one place, i.e., Psalm 110:1, “The Lord says to my lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool.” The high priesthood of Christ, for its part, is a theme specific to Hebrews.
It is a historical fact. Luke gives us the time, place and eyewitnesses. Our faith in the ascension, as our faith in the resurrection of Jesus, is based on fact, not on fantasy or fiction. Acts 1:12 observes that the distance between Mt. of Olives and Jerusalem was “a Sabbath day’s journey away.” Luke gives details verifiable in fact. Right at the opening of his “first book”, the Gospel, Luke makes clear that he is compiling “a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us” and which “were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses.” These things were “accomplished”, that is, they did happen, they were facts. The transmitters were “eyewitnesses”, that is, first hand witnesses; they saw and heard what they were narrating. Jesus was a fact, an event in history not a figment of the imagination, his ascension that we celebrate today included.
It is a theological fact. After a certain period of familiar relationship with his disciples, the risen Lord, withdrew his visible presence from the world. By his ascension the risen body of Jesus is transferred to the realm of the divine. His bodily existence continues, departs from the material universe and is “taken up in glory”. As he sits at the right hand of God, he conquers and subjects “everything under his feet.” Because of this glorification the cross becomes a symbol of triumph not of defeat, of life not of death, of victory not of loss. Jesus carries our human nature with him to the right hand of God. This clay formed into the image and likeness of God has a sublime destiny. It was used as an instrument of redemption through suffering and death, now it is glorified in the body of the glorified Lord. Jesus promises to prepare a dwelling for us in the Father’s house, then he will come back to take us with him so that where he is we will also be (Jn 14:2-4). Jesus’ position at the right hand of the Father has another advantage for us, that is, to intercede for us as our High Priest before God (Hb 6:19-20). He is in the best position to obtain from the Father all the needs of His Bride, the Church and all its members. From this same position in heaven he sends the Holy Spirit to the Church and his members to guide, transform, nourish, mold and remold, and lead each one into the maturity of Christ’s image. The Holy Spirit as the soul of the Church acts on each of us through the sacraments, healing, nourishing, sanctifying. Thus hell cannot prevail against the Church. Like Christ hanging on the cross, she may seem defeated, but also like Christ she will rise again in glory and prevail over her enemies.
This Jesus will come back in the same way. He was taken by the cloud out of their sight. This cloud will also be there to bring him down on the last day. Even Mark writes about this return in glory upon the clouds of heaven (Mk 14:62). Thus there is a profound bond between his ascent into heaven and his return at the end of time. His stay in heaven is transitory in relation to the whole economy of salvation, because he resides in heaven until the time of the final manifestation and universal restoration. He went up to heaven upon the clouds, he will also return upon the clouds with glory and majesty.
Let us take care of this body for it is out instrument of salvation; in and through this body each one works out his/her salvation. In good health this body becomes a worker of love, bringing the love of Christ to others. In sickness and pain, it becomes an instrument of reparation and redemption. In death we prepare this body to rise again and live with Christ for all eternity. Furthermore this body is sacred; Christ consecrates it at baptism making it the temple of the Holy Spirit. Seeing our human nature at the right hand of God in the Person of Christ, we should reverence it in us and in our fellowmen.
We should be a people of hope. Christ our head is at the right hand of God interceding for each and all the members of the Church. Every trial, every difficulty, should bring us strength and courage to stand up for Christ. Remember, hell cannot prevail against the Church. Let us live this life with eyes fixed in heaven where Christ is at the right hand of God. There is our home. There we see many who have gone ahead of us into the next life. Many of them are saints willing to pray for us and help us in time of need. We have a family of angels and saints. The Ascension of Jesus opens our eyes to the wonderful world of our eternal home.