Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
Where is Jesus?
In these last days of the Easter season, the Church celebrates the Ascension of the Lord. After all his pain and suffering on the Cross, the Lord Jesus ascends to his Throne to rule over heaven and earth. So, where is Jesus? He is in heaven. But how did he get there?
I must admit, I have had a silly image of the Ascension. With words in the liturgy like “lifted up,” “ascended,” and “looking up,” and with art depicting him in the air, I have imagined Jesus going up to heaven in a jet pack. Although humorous, this image of the Ascension is untenable (and anachronistic) as a mature belief. So, how did Jesus get up to heaven?
Let’s take a look at the Gospels and Acts, and see what we find regarding this dogma of our Faith.
In Matthew, Jesus commissions the Eleven to make disciples of all nations, and then he promises, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) The Gospel ends there, with comforting words that imply his departure, but no explicit mention of the Ascension.
In Mark, after Jesus commissions the Eleven to proclaim the gospel to every creature, “the Lord Jesus was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God.” (Mark 16:19) The Ascension is passive in tone: Jesus “was taken up.” Also mentioned is his enthronement, like a king, at the right hand of God.
In Luke, with his hands raised in blessing, Jesus “parted from them and was taken up to heaven.” (Luke 24:51) Luke matches Mark in saying that Jesus “was taken up,” but adds the beautiful gesture of raised hands and a blessing for the observing disciples.
In John, the Ascension itself is not recounted, but there are many allusions to it, like when the risen Lord says to Mary of Magdala, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” (John 20:17) For him to say this implies that Jesus’ resurrected body is bound for heaven.
In Acts, as the disciples were looking on, Jesus “was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.” (Acts 1:9) The mention of a “cloud” is biblical language and is to say that the Ascension was both mysterious and glorious. Yet, we can believe that it happened, because there were witnesses. It happened before their very eyes. And not with a jet pack.
Therefore, in the Apostles’ Creed, we confess this wonderful tenet of our Faith: “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”
Before he ascended, Jesus told his disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit. Yet, Ascensiontide can be more than a waiting period before Pentecost. Ascension holds a spiritual outlook all its own.
During Ascensiontide, let us ponder these three spiritual points, derived from the liturgy:
1. Right now, our Lord Jesus Christ is living and reigning with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit. (Doxology)
2. Our weak human nature, to which the Son of God was united at his Incarnation, is now dwelling gloriously in heaven. (Eucharistic Prayer I)
3. Christ is the head of the church, and where the Head has gone before, the Body is called to follow in hope. (Collect)
Join me this week as we take a journey alongside St. Paul, taking his example to heart, that we too might proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Reflection by Br. Luke Kral, OSB