The Ascension of Jesus into Heaven
If we look hard enough we can find ourselves in the readings of Mass. Our first reading today of the Feast for the Ascension from the Acts of the Apostles says that Jesus appeared to his disciples for forty days after he rose from the dead, proving he was alive and speaking about the Kingdom of God. Yet as he speaks of the Kingdom of God, his disciples ask him “Is this time you will restore the kingdom to Israel.” Are you going to kick the Romans out of our land? They hardly appreciate the momentous truth he promises. He is ascending into heaven; they’re thinking only of the earth. (Acts 1:1-11)
Like his first disciples, our understanding of what God reveals to us in Jesus Christ is so limited.
I watched a PBS special the other day: “Searching: Our Quest for Meaning in an Age of Science.” The narrator was Alan Lightman, a theoretical physicist. Lightman began the program by describing an experience he had one night when he was out alone in a small boat on a lake. As he looked up into the stars he suddenly felt as if the world stood still. He became absorbed in something greater than himself. He was part of the universe.
As a scientist Lightman couldn’t explain the experience. Were did it come from? Could he have it again? So he asked some top scientists if something in our brains creates this experience? Can we create a form of life that helps us to hold on to such an experience? How does the brain work; how is formed from matter? How was the universe formed? Could they tell him?
Their answer was they’re studying the question. They promised they would find out the answer– someday.
Instead of looking for the meaningful life through science, some people today look for it in drugs, or sex or in a wholehearted pursuit of worldly success.
That’s why the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord into heaven is so important. It tells us to look for life in Jesus Christ. Our final destiny is heaven. Creation itself looks for its renewal in him.
The Ascension is part of the Easter mystery. On Easter Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead and for forty days, the scriptures say, he ate and drank and met with his disciples to build up their faith. Then, he ascended into heaven.
Rising from the dead on Easter was not the end of his story. He rose from the dead but did not continue to live on earth. No, after rising from the dead he ascended into heaven to “sit at the right hand of the Father”, our creed says. He entered another world beyond this one, a world greater than this one. There, from a place of great power, he fulfills his promise and extends his power to us here on earth. He promises us, as he promised his disciples, not to leave us orphans. He will come and take us to a home he has prepared for us.
Why don’t we know more about heaven? We have God’s promise: “Eye has not seen, or ear heard, or has it entered the human mind, what God has prepared for those who love him.” It’s a mystery we hope for. A poet once said that the happiness of heaven has been concealed from us so that we might endure life.
So often we pursue life solely on earth, and see death ending it all. Death is not meant to be our end. Heaven is our destiny, where tears are wiped away, where sadness is no more, where wrongs are righted, where reunion with those we love takes place, where we enjoy the presence of God and all the saints.
For now, we have only hints of that destiny. We have only the assurances of faith. Listen to those assurances in the prayers we say. We end our creed: “ I believe of the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.”
Listen to the prayer we say at Mass after we remember Jesus gives us his body and blood: “Remember our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the peace of your. Christ, and all the dead, whose faith you alone have known, Admit them to rejoice in the light of your face, and in the resurrection give them the fulness of life. And grant also to us, when our earthly pilgrimage is done, that we may come to an eternal dwelling place, and live with you forever.”
Listen again to what St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Ephesians: “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens,”