For many of us, when we hear about the Ascension of Jesus we are just as beguiled as the disciples who as recorded in the Book of Acts were standing around, looking at the sky. Also, depending on where you live, will depend on when you celebrate this solemnity. If you live in the ecclesiastical Provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, and Philadelphia you already celebrated Ascension Thursday on its traditional day, this past Thursday. For the rest of the country it is a holy day of obligation celebrated today, on Sunday. The reason for Ascension Thursday is that the Ascension of Jesus took place 40 days after the Resurrection and 10 days before Pentecost. The point of concern for moving to Sunday observance was lack of attendance on Thursdays.
Regarding what the Ascension of Jesus is, sometimes, we can understand a term better by saying what it is not. The Ascension was not an event where Jesus went up, up, and away in my beautiful balloon, or as Superman zipping away to destroy an asteroid hurtling toward the earth.
The Ascension is the culminating event of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. Jesus who as the Son of God became a human being like us, lived among us, experienced the joys and suffering of life like us in all things but sin, yet took our sins upon himself on the cross. Jesus then died, entered into death and conquered death. He rose again, not as a ghost or a spirit, but still fully God and fully man, yet his body was transfigured. Jesus became the first born of the new creation.
After forty days spent gathering his disciples, eating with, teaching, and empowering them to continue his work of making the will of his Father known, Jesus Ascended back to the Father with his humanity still in tact, and so with our humanity too.
As Bishop Robert Barron explains: “The Ascension is the translation of this earthly reality into a heavenly reality.” Jesus is no longer limited by the time and space of our present temporal reality. He transcends our recognized third dimensional reality, and now exists at a higher pitch of existence. Just as Jesus was able to pass through a locked door, he is able to be present to us at Mass on Thursday or Sunday or any time that the Mass is celebrated anywhere in the world. Jesus is present to us where two or more are gathered in his name and when we call on his name.
Through the event of the Ascension, Jesus brings something of our humanity to heaven and at Pentecost he sent something of heaven to us in the descent of the Holy Spirit. And who is the Holy Spirit, but the Love that is breathed, that is shared between the Father and the Son.
What this means for us is that we are separated no longer from the reality of heaven. St Irenaeus wrote that, “Jesus opened up heaven for us in the humanity he assumed.” We can see this biblically, as the sky was torn open at the baptism of Jesus, as the veil was torn in the Holy of Holies in the temple at his crucifixion, and as Jesus Ascended fully human, with our humanity, to the right hand of the Father. Heaven and earth have been wedded.
We are the Church, the bride of Christ. Through our Baptism we are grafted to the Mystical Body of Christ.
We are transfigured, divinized, made God through our participation in the life of Jesus. We are made holy, and our commission, the same as the Apostles, is to continue the work of being a bridge for the communion of the human and the divine. We are to work to follow the will of God, on earth as it is in heaven, “to go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature”.
Having heard this Good News of the Ascension, let us not, as the two angels said, just “stand around looking at the sky”, but share the love of his very being that we receive in the Eucharist, in person or spiritually online, and invite all to participate on earth what is celebrated in heaven, the love of the communion between the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.