we looked a little bit into the Ascension and what some differences between the Gospel narratives are. The Solemnity is celebrated today, Sunday in Canada, but in many parts around the world, including the U.S., it was celebrated, last Thursday (read last week's post to find out why).
The Book of Acts is where we get the Ascension story that we’re most familiar with. Here’s what I think is happening: The disciples are just recovering from the PTSD of the crucifixion and they are recovering from the shock of the resurrection and it’s taken Jesus 40 days to show them that he’s really alive, and to prepare them.
Then the day arrives. This is the day when everyone thinks that Jesus is going to restore the Kingdom to Israel; He’s finally going to take care of those pesky Romans. But Jesus has another plan. Instead he sends them to be his witnesses and in the meantime to wait for the Holy Spirit. And then he leaves.
And they are left staring blankly into the sky; not because they are in awe that they just witnessed an awesome miracle; not because they are sad that Jesus is gone and they will never see him again. They are left there dumbfounded in disbelief wondering, “What just happened? What does all that mean?” And then these two angels walking by see them staring up at the clouds: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? What are you looking at? Stop looking at the sky and go and do the work that Jesus sent you to do.”
Keep your eyes on Heaven
Keep your eyes on Heaven: That’s the promise, the hope that St. Paul also speaks about in the second reading (Eph 17:18) – but your feet planted on earth – that’s mission. That’s how we’re going to get to Heaven, together. That’s where we’re meant to go. While we believe that Jesus really did ascend in body to Heaven, the Ascension is not a literal going up to the sky; Heaven is not up in the sky. Jesus’ ascension is his uniting with the Father. That’s where we’re all supposed to go: to be one with God.
St. Athanasius, one of the Eastern Church Fathers, said that “the Son of God became man so that we might become God."
Sounds a bit heretical or even new age, but it’s true. That’s what we believe: that the temporal will become eternal; the material will become spiritualised; the divine will become human – and everything, all Creation will be in Heaven. Everything that’s physical will not be deleted in Heaven; it will be completed in Heaven. Everything that is mortal will become eternal and divine. That’s what happens at the Sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. It is a meeting of Heaven and earth. In the Sacraments we get a glimmer of that unity that will be in Heaven.
At Mass this is represented when just before the Eucharistic Prayer, the presider or the deacon, if there is one, mixes a few drops of water into the wine and prays that “by the mingling of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
That is our destiny: to become one with God
But we sometimes have the two extremes. On one end we have all the people who are too focused on Heaven. They are trying so hard to be holy and all the while ignoring everything here on earth. That’s not good. The other extreme are the people who are working so hard at doing good here on earth, but they’ve lost connection to the destination. That’s not good either. We have to find the balance. We keep our eyes on Heaven, but our feet planted right here on earth.
Men and women, readers of this blog, do not waste time staring up at the sky. Instead, keep your eyes on Heaven – and your feet planted here on earth, so you can do your mission: go out there and make disciples, feed the hungry, visit the sick, comfort the afflicted, bring joy to the sorrowing, share the Good News with the one who is hungry for truth. And do it with joy and kindness. If we do, we’ll find that Heaven is not that far away. In fact, we’re probably almost halfway there.
Image: The Ascension by Benjamin West (1738–1820). Denver Art Museum, Berger Collection.
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: firstname.lastname@example.org