A JOYFUL LEAVE-TAKING
“God has ascended with a shout, The LORD, with the sound of a trumpet; Sing praises to God, sing praises; Sing praises to our King, sing praises,” (Ps. 47. 5).
Two momentous leave-takings: the first violent, traumatic – when Jesus breathed His last and surrendered His life into the loving hands of His Heavenly Father; the other, just forty days later, when He, while talking to His disciples was taken up and eventually disappeared into a cloud…lost to their sight. This was a joyful separation – cause for praise and thanksgiving, one full of expectation and anticipation.
During this forty day period between the Resurrection and Ascension Jesus had never given His disciples the impression that He intended to settle down with them. Rather, He unpredictably appeared to them and disappeared from them…had meals with them, talked with them.
Above all, else these Resurrection Appearances were social calls, ‘getting to know me’ as the same Jesus, your friend, who had triumphed death; ‘getting to know me’ as the friend who brought you peace even after you’d let me down and betrayed me when I most needed your loyalty and support.
Jesus simply had to firmly anchor down their belief that the Jesus they had known and loved for three years had indeed risen from the dead. It was immensely important to Him that Thomas should overcome His doubt and hesitation. Jesus patiently brought Thomas to the point where he would exclaim, 'My Lord and my God!' to which Jesus added, ‘You believe because you can see me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. (Jn. 20.28).
With these extraordinary comings and goings for over a month Jesus must have convinced them He was deeply attached to them not only because He had a task, a Mission, for them – to proclaim Him to the whole world. They meant so much to Him, and now so do we, that He longs to extend our ‘togetherness’ with Him way out into eternity.
This permanent Heavenly Future would be nothing like what could ever be experienced here on earth. In fact, it would be what our Heavenly Father had intended when He created the first man and woman. Indeed, to save us for this was precisely the purpose of His Son being sent into this, our world, living for us, dying for us,
And, finally, He ascended to prepare a place for us.
“In my Father's house there are many places to live in; otherwise I would have told you. I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you to myself, so that you may be with me where I am. I shall not leave you orphans; I shall come to you. In a short time the world will no longer see me; but you will see that I live and you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you,” (Jn.14).
Jesus, in the fullness of His humanity – body and soul Ascended into Heaven there to be gloriously present at the place of honour – the Right-Hand Side of His Heavenly Father. This was a glorious triumph for the whole human family ...the family He had made His own. Jesus wishes to share this with us – you, me, all of us.
As we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven we simply must celebrate the glorious reality that our own mortal, frail, human bodies are Temples of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. We are called to live such lives that in and through our human bodies we give great glory to God. In so doing we ourselves are to become glorious even now during our lives on earth.
Eventually, at the Last Judgment, our bodies will be reunited to our souls. Then, and there, we shall be once more fully alive in the fullness of our redeemed humanity, body united to soul. This was a privilege Jesus secured this privilege for His Mother, Mary, by her being Assumed into Heaven.
The Ascension of Jesus into Heaven has to be about you and me, every member of the human family. If we embrace the call to lead godly life here and now Jesus will welcome us into a life with God for eternity. Surely this is worth aiming for, worth striving for!
Peter Clarke, O.P.