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Ascension: a “leveling up” to God in Jesus

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Today’s Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord is a celebration of the mystery of Jesus Christ our Savior. It is not just an episode in his life because it is something about his very person and his personal relationship with us his followers that continues to this day.

In his Ascension into heaven, Jesus had brought us closer to heaven – and God – even while we are still here on earth! It is part of the mystery of his Person whose coming and going, so to speak, closed the wide gap before between heaven and earth which is actually relational than spatial in nature. Hence, the Ascension is not about Christ’s departure to a distant galaxy in the universe where heaven is supposed to be but a new and higher or deeper kind of relationship of humans with God in Jesus.

Ascension is a leveling up as kids would say these days in our relationships with God in Jesus. This we realize in a careful reading of our short gospel account by starting at its ending:

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.

Luke 24:50-53

Did you notice Luke’s description of how the disciples “returned to Jerusalem with great joy”?

Photo by author, inside the Chapel of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, 2017.

Normally, we feel sad in every departure of a loved one, be it permanent like in death or temporary like when they move to a new residence or work or when kids go to college. Every parting with loved ones brings sadness in our hearts, rarely a great joy.

So, where did that great joy of the disciples come from after Jesus left them and ascended into heaven?

Recall how these past two Sundays when Jesus insisted on his disciples including us the need to obey his commandment to love, reassuring them not to let their hearts be troubled and disturbed when he leaves them. Loving Jesus is keeping his words of loving one another as he has loved us. Where there is love, there is always the gift of presence and relationships, of peace, of intimacy. Even if we are apart from one another, even if we do not see each other, love transcends the physical distance and presence; hence, heaven is oneness with God while hell is separation from God!

Mystery of Christ, our intimacy with God

The joy of the disciples at the Lord’s Ascension is the continuing intimacy they have with Jesus because of his commandment to love and his gift of peace. He said last Sunday that anyone who keeps his words shall be loved by him and the Father who shall both dwell on that person.

Jesus and the Father dwelling in us is intimacy, a deep and personal relationship that is as close as our breath. This is the whole point of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews in explaining the great difference of the old temple worship and worship in Jesus Christ: “Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one, but heaven itself” (Heb.9:24) that enabled us all to reach and enter heaven “by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh” (Heb.10:20).

Heaven is not just a place or location but most of all a state of life, a state of grace made possible by Jesus Christ, in Jesus Christ. It is something we already have in our hearts which we feel and experience when we strive to live in communion with Jesus and everyone around us through personal and communal prayers, especially in the Holy Eucharist.

Photo by author, part of the site believed where Jesus stepped on during his Ascension inside the Chapel of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, May 2017.

Keep in mind the upward movement of the Ascension which calls for a “leveling up” in our perspectives and way of life, of “witnessing” Jesus Christ to everyone “to the ends of the earth” as he instructed them outside Bethany (Acts 1:8) before “going up” to heaven to be seated at the right hand of God our almighty Father.

But that mystery of Christ is not everything. See how Luke mentioned both in Acts and in his gospel account the disciples as “witnesses” of Jesus.

The Ascension challenges every disciple of Christ to witness his mystery in a life in union with God, a mystery we must nurture and keep, calling us to “approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy” (Heb.10:22-23).

Ascension is therefore a call to holiness, to a life centered in God. But with the recent turn of events both here and abroad, we find we are still too far from the gifts and realities of Christ’s Ascension as life and societies seem to go down to the pit of death and destruction, pains and despair.

May 25: People attend a prayer vigil for the Robb Elementary School students and teachers killed in a mass shooting Tuesday at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Uvalde, Texas.
Joshua Lott/The Washington Post via Getty Images

All mystery and tragedy, but no Christ?

We are thousands of kilometers away from Uvalde, Texas but we too were pierced in the hearts by the reports of the killing of 19 school children and their two teachers in a shooting spree by an 18-year old who started his carnage by first shooting his own grandmother at home before going to their local school.

Two weeks earlier, another ten people were also gunned down in Buffalo, New York that has made mass shooting like a persistent plague in the US getting worst each year without any signs of being eradicated at all with the never-ending debates about guns especially by politicians.

See how amid all these decadence in our time, from the mass shootings in the US to the war in Ukraine and the never ending bickering in our local politics show us the exact opposite of the mystery of Christ expressed in this Solemnity of his Ascension, of how we have sank deeper in evil and sin, away from one another and from God.

Everybody is speaking each one’s point of view but never considered God at all and the value of every human life especially at its most vulnerable stage in the womb and old age. Media barrage us with so much statistics but never about the value and importance of virtues like kindness and love and spirituality.

Going back to our gospel this Sunday, Luke leads us to finding and witnessing Christ’s mystery as a person and of his Ascension in its opening when Jesus said to his disciples:

Photo by Mr. Chester Ocampo, springtime in Japan, 2017.

“Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Luke 24:46-48

See the flow starting from the Scriptures or words of God that were written leading into its fulfillment in the Pasch of Jesus Christ we are tasked to preach and proclaim in words and in deeds which is what witnessing is all about.

This Sunday, Jesus is leading us out of our homes like his disciples to meet him in our churches where his mystery is celebrated daily in the Holy Eucharist as we listen and pray over his words in the Sacred Scriptures that open us to the many tasks of improving our relationships with one another, in learning to forget ourselves and love like Jesus did, not in attacking each other or defending ourselves from their attacks.

How sad that until now, so many of the faithful are still hesitant of going back to church celebrations due to misplaced priorities in life while some of us in the clergy continue to twist and bend the words of the Lord to suit their own way of thinking, especially in politics.

When we examine the life of Jesus, there has always been the letting go of everything in him, including his very life that when his Ascension came, he was totally light and free to go back to the Father. This in turn left so much imprints on his followers’ hearts including us today that even we have not seen Jesus, we can feel him present in us and with us.

How willing are we to be witnesses of Jesus, of letting go of our personal agendas and plans that prevent us from leveling up or arising to new heights of relationships with God and with others in Christ? Have a blessed and safe week ahead!

Photo by Mr. Chester Ocampo, springtime in Japan, 2017.
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Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

President of Radio Veritas

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