“He Was Lifted Up”
Ascension of the Lord (B); May 20, 2012
Acts 1:1-11; Ps 47; Eph 1:17-23; Mk 16:15-20
Deacon Jim McFadden; Divine Savior Catholic Church
“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and to all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the Earth” (Acts 1:8).
With these words, Jesus took leave of his Apostles. Immediately afterwards, Luke adds that “as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight” (1:9).
Being a visual learner, I’ve got to admit that when I initially reflect upon the Ascension of our Lord, concrete images come to mind as if Jesus was shot into space in a magic cloud to come to some far away galaxy that we call Heaven. As crude and false as that image may be, it may reflect my clumsy attempt to come to grips with this mystery. But as I prepared this homily, I just didn’t want to sweep away these terms of Jesus being “lifted up,” “taken up,” “a cloud took him up” as merely metaphorical or as something made up, because they are part of our Scriptures. Let’s look at when it was written and see what those terms meant then.
To begin with, we can’t just go to one biblical source to get a handle on this mystery. Indeed, we have to peruse the whole expanse of the Old and New Testament to arrive at some kind of insight. I learned that “to be lifted up” was first used in the Old Testament and refers to royal enthronement. So, Christ’s Ascension has something to do with the Crucified and Risen Son of Man becoming a king. And, what does a King do? A King rules; a King is sovereign, which means that in the Ascended Lord we have a manifestation of God’s kingship over the world. Though the forces of Darkness and Alienation seem to have the upper hand and seemingly are in charge of our world, God, the ultimate Power, reigns supreme and is bringing everything to its final and just end. Jesus is sovereign not by dominating and controlling, but by the outpouring of his self-gifting love.
In the passage from Acts, Luke also said that Jesus was “taken up” and “a cloud took him from their sight. “ Again, we have to go back to our Old Testament roots and connect his Ascension into God’s involvement with Israel, in which a cloud came over Mt. Sinai when Moses received the Ten Commandments and a cloud was above the tent of the Covenant in the desert. We see the same cloud on the mountain of the Transfiguration.
To present the Risen Christ as being wrapped in a cloud calls to mind for all time the mystery of Jesus “being seated at the right hand of God.” One could say truly that as the co-eternal Son of God, He is always seated at God’s right hand. But, in Christ’s ascendency into Heaven, the human being—the Son of Man—has entered into intimacy with God in a new and unheard-of way; humanity henceforth is now and forever in God. God and Humanity are forever united. We can’t talk about one without the other.
Moreover, we’ve got to jettison a primitive notion that Heaven indicates some place above the stars. Heaven is not a place that occupies geographic co-ordinates, but is something much more daring and sublime that grabs us to the very core of our being. Heaven is a state of being; it’s not a place. Heaven exists when we are completely united or fully aligned with God, each other, and creation. In his priestly prayer given at the Last Supper, Jesus prayed to his Father that “…they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us and that the world may believe you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me…” (John 17: 21-22). Sisters and brothers, through Jesus’ Ascension, we like Theopolis, whose name means “beloved of God” will come to understand and live the reality where all is united in God.
This is such Good News! Christ himself, whom we know sacramentally, especially in the Eucharist, and ecclesially within the Church, the People of God, is welcoming us fully and forever into the Trinitarian relationship of Love. When we are being IN God, we are in Heaven here and now! And, we draw close to Heaven to the extent that we draw close to Jesus and enter into communion with him. For this reason, the Solemnity of the Ascension invites us to be in profound communion with the Risen Jesus, invisibly but really present in the life of each and every one of us.
In this perspective we understand why the Evangelist Luke says that after the Ascension the disciples returned to Jerusalem “with great joy” (Luke 24:52). Their joy stems from the fact that what happened was not a separation, that the Lord was not permanently absent. Just the opposite: they were certain that the Crucified-Risen Christ was alive within them, that they experienced that reality in the Eucharist, and that the gates of eternal life had been open to them. In other words, the Ascension does not mean that the Lord is ‘missing in action’ in our world of ordinary experience, but that He is really present to us that in a way that is absolutely life-giving and unitive.
That’s why joy is the greatest proof that one believes in Jesus. It’s up to us, the disciples of Jesus empowered by the Holy Spirit, to make our Lord’s presence visible by our enthusiastic witness, proclaiming and living the Good News to all nations.