“When they had gathered together they asked him,
‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’”
The apostles still did not get it. They were still seeking a political solution for Israel. Think about how many people today might say something similar about the USA: “Lord are you going to continue to bless the USA? And protect us from our international enemies?”
So many people have placed all their hope in the political future of their own country, in this world. Patriotism is good and healthy, but not our ultimate Hope. Our Hope is not in this world.
God has prepared a new homeland for those who believe in Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, many Christians are more focused upon this world than on the Kingdom of heaven.
We know that Jesus ascended into heaven. There were many witnesses to the event. The Old Testament contains prophecies of his ascension into heaven. Jesus himself predicted his ascension to the Father.
What are the lessons of the Ascension? Let’s consider some of them.
First, Jesus came from the Father, and he returned to the Father. By ascending, body and soul into heaven, Jesus opened heaven for us. Where he goes, we also will follow.
Also, let’s recall that there were forty days between the Resurrection of Jesus and his Ascension. Jesus spent those forty days, after his death, among his disciples and more than 500 others among his believers. During those forty days, Jesus taught his community and formed them into his Church.
During this time Jesus proved to his disciples that there is life after death. Jesus demonstrated to his disciples that the Resurrection is for body and soul, not just a spiritual event. If they didn’t believe before, they did now. Here was a reason to hope. No one had ever seen death defeated so effectively, in body and soul. Jesus could die no more, and now he was preparing his believers to live in the hope of rising to new life with him.
We know from the account of Jesus on the Road to Emmaus that one of the things he did was to interpret Scripture for them. He opened their minds and explained the prophecies of the Old Testament, and he was personally shaping the New Testament with roots in the Old Testament. The Old Testament pre-figured the New Testament, and the New Testament fulfills the Old Testament. The Christian understanding of the Old Testament largely came from Jesus’ own teachings, many of them after his Resurrection, and before his Ascension.
Next, we consider that Jesus rules the universe with the Father. We had a suggestion of this in Psalm 110, which is often quoted in the New Testament:
“The LORD says to you, my lord: “Take your throne at my right hand”
Jesus and the Father are one. Jesus reigns over the Kingdom of Heaven with the Father.
Where did Jesus go? Is Heaven someplace vertically above the earth? It is actually much closer.
We can better understand this when we keep before us the belief in God as “The Holy Trinity”: God in Three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Pope Benedict XVI has written, “The meaning of Christ’s Ascension expresses our belief that in Christ the humanity we all share has entered the inner life of God in a new and hitherto unheard of way. It means that man has found an everlasting ‘place’ in God. It would be a mistake to interpret the Ascension as ‘the temporary absence of Christ from the world.’” Rather, as the Pope said, “we go to heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and enter into him.” Heaven is a person: “Jesus himself is what we call ‘heaven.’” Jesus would say, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.”
Over 1500 years ago, Pope Leo the Great said, “… our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments. He is still here, and visible. When evangelical Protestants gave up the Sacraments in recent centuries, they let go of the visible presence of Jesus among us.
In the Gospel reading we hear Jesus telling the Apostles that their mission is to:
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, (Into the Holy Trinity)
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Take,eat, this is my body).
And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
We don’t wait until the end of our lives to live with Jesus. We live our life in Jesus in the Sacramental life of the Church, beginning with our Baptism into the Holy Trinity. We die to this world in our baptism. We share his risen, glorified Body at the Altar when we receive his Body and Blood. In our Confirmation we receive life in the Holy Spirit. When we fall from Grace by our errors and sin, we are forgiven by Him and restored to the Grace of our Baptism in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we are ill we are strengthened in Christ by anointing in Sacrament of the Sick. We live our married lives with Christ when we marry in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. When we serve the Church in sacred ministry, we are ordained to Holy Orders by the Holy Spirit. We live our lives in Jesus when we live the full Sacramental life of the Church.
This is what it means to be Catholic. We can’t be “cafeteria Christians” choosing this sacrament, but not that one. When Jesus said, “This is my Body”, he was showing visibly that he would always be with us in the Sacraments, always journeying with us as we travel through earthly life in this world to our eternal Hope.
The Ascension is our Hope. The Ascension is where we are going, into God; into Jesus Christ. He shares our humanity, so we can share his divinity. The Feast of the Ascension is a promise to us, and a roadmap for our eternal life