Thursday, May 30, 2019

Ascension Day

In the paschal mystery of Jesus and of our redemption there are three ascensions to which Jesus himself refers in the crucial chapter twelve of the Gospel of John when he says, “Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.  And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”  The first ascent is that in which Jesus ascends, is lifted above the earth on a cross, yes, in crucifixion and death on Calvary.  The second ascension is when the Father raises Jesus from the dead in the resurrection on Easter morning.  The third ascension we celebrate this morning: the Father who raised Jesus from the dead is now lifting  him up and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality and power, and every name that is named; and the Father puts all things beneath his feet and gives him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.  Do you experience him drawing you to himself?

The Epistle to the Ephesians speaks of our being included in this great mystery of the Ascension of Jesus into heavenly glory - “God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved) raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus...” God, who transcends our time and space not only draws us to Himself in Christ, but also establishes us in the heavenly places. Michael Casey tells us that by virtue of Christ's ascension “the Word made Flesh is no longer subject to spatio-temporal limitations; he is universally present and accessible—most of all at the level of spirit in the hearts of believers.” Thus, today's solemn feast belongs to all of us who are baptized into the body of Christ Jesus, that is, the Church in pilgrimage and in glory.

There are many ways and means that have been given to the Church to put us in touch with this exalted state we have been called to share with Jesus: prayer, the reading of scripture in lectio divina, theological studies, the sacraments, especially Baptism, the Eucharist and Reconciliation.  These ways are all means to help us come to realize who we are in Christ Jesus, our exalted Lord who humbled himself to share in our humanity that we might share in his divinity and in the exaltation of his humanity at the right hand of the Father.  We often experience being drawn to prayer: drawn by and to the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. The classic definition of prayer from John of Damascus is “the ascent of the mind to God,” using the very word “ascent” of today's feast to define the word “prayer”; prayer is a way in which we participate in the mystery of the ascension.  Prayer is a response to being drawn to our Savior, who has been lifted up and ascended to heavenly glory. 

The Eucharist is the greatest of prayers. In the Eucharist we receive the ascended and glorified body of Christ.  The more we are drawn to the exalted Lord Jesus in our prayer, in the Eucharist, in our daily ordinary, obscure and laborious lives, the more everyone is drawn to everyone else in love, and earth ascends into heaven. 

Excerpts from Father Luke's homily. The Ascension of Christ, historiated initial ‘C’, Italian, 15 century, State Library of Victoria.