Friday 10 May 2013

Ascension, not space travel

The other day I had a visit from Phil Berryman, Angie and Barbara. They gave me a glimpse of another part of the church in North America, quite different from what I hear about in my own community. They reported much discouragement and anger among Catholics, and many departures. I asked at one point: what kind of church would you like to see? And Angie replied: a church that is loving and compassionate, human and welcoming; not a church that is so utterly judgmental. I agreed wholeheartedly. But, preparing my homily for the feast of the Ascension, I thought to myself: I would add a good dose of joy and of hope.

The Ascension is about joy and hope. In Jn 14:28 we find Jesus saying: If you loved me, you would rejoice because I go to the Father. In Lk 24:52, in fact, Jesus ascends on the Mount of Olives, and the disciples, instead of being sorrowful, return to Jerusalem "with great joy." And then there is the mysterious passage in Jn 20:17: do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to my Father. 

All these texts call us to a purification of our understanding of the Ascension. The Ascension is not space travel. It is a new presence of Jesus. For the first time I noticed the cloud mentioned in Acts 1:??, something that is not mentioned in Lk. And then I found Ratzinger - Benedict XVI explaining that the cloud here is once again, as in the accounts of the Transfiguration, a sign of the glory of God, the Shekinah. Jesus enters fully the mystery and the glory of God. This is not space travel: it is dominion over space. The risen and ascended Jesus is no longer bound by constraints of space and time: he is everywhere, at all times. He is here with us, he is now with us. And so it is not surprising that the disciples are said to return to the city with great joy. Augustine is particularly good on this point in the assigned reading in the Office for the Ascension. 

So he is present with us, and now that he is ascended, now that he sits at the right hand of the Father, we can cling to his feet. 

"If anyone loves me, and keeps my word, my Father will love him, and my Father and I will come and make our home with him." Again that lovely word, home. Jesus is at home with his Father. We are at home with Jesus and his Father if we love him and keep his word. Jesus and the Father make their home with us, or, as another translation has it: they make a room in our house. Just like Jesus made a room for himself in the house of Simon Peter in Capharnaum. 

Joy, cloud, feet, home: four words that can keep echoing in our hearts as we live through the Paschal Mystery. 

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