Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1: 17-23; Mark 16:15-20
Today, on Sunday, the Church in most of the United States celebrates the feast of the Lord’s ascension into heaven instead of last Thursday. The bishops in our country have chosen the ascension to be moved so all Catholics may participate in this important feast of our faith. The ascension of the Lord is part of the Nicene Creed which we profess every Sunday at Mass.
It is important to realize why this feast is a vital part of our faith. The Second Reading of today’s Mass clearly teaches what the mystery means: May the Father of glory enlighten the eyes of your hearts to know what is the hope that belongs to your call, what are the riches of the glory for us who believe. Christ’s ascension into glory is our hope. The ascension of Jesus to his heavenly Father is not just his personal glorification, at God’s right hand but is our glory as well, our hope of glory.
The night before Jesus suffered his death on the cross, St. John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus caused the apostles grief when he warned them that he was about to leave them. I came from the Father and have come into the world and now I leave the world to go to the Father (John 16:28). Having foretold this he then prayed to his heavenly Father: Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am so that they may always see the glory you have given me. Jesus states in this prayer that he wants them not only to see his glory but actually experience within themselves his glory. He says: I have given them the glory you gave me so that they may be one as we are one.
The Lord makes us a promise here that his ascension is going to be our glory as well as his. The ascension of Jesus is not just about him. The risen life he now lives can never again be just about him. As we heard in the Letter to the Ephesians, God the Father put all things beneath [Christ’s] feet and gave him as head…to the Church which is his body…
We are the body of Christ even now by our baptism into his death and resurrection. Before Christ rose from the dead, he shared as completely as we all do in the limitations of our human nature. He knew from his own experience the feeling of individual isolation from each other that we all live with. We take feeling cut off from one another for granted–that’s the way it is! We exist in our separate bubbles. And Jesus shared the same experience of isolation just as he shared the rest of our humanity.
But now he dwells in the new life of the resurrection. Jesus is no longer limited by our human condition; he tells us that now he is in us and we are in him. And the glory entered into by his resurrection is in us and we are in him. The glory he assumed at his resurrection is in us too, simply because he is in us. I have given them the glory you gave me so that they may be one as we are one.
Unfortunately no one can experience physically Christ’s glory dwelling within us, except rarely and faintly. Occasionally some of us may feel faint hints of Christ glory within us. But we are generally so absorbed in the tangible world around us and the pressures and pains of life that we lead unperceiving lives, oblivious of the glory of Christ that is our glory.
Christ is our glory and hope. Even now, he is our glory, however unperceiving we remain. We long to know his glory and that longing is proof that it is there already. How can any of us long for what he or she has no awareness of? Our dissatisfaction with our lives demonstrates that we know, even faintly, that there is more, something God intends us to have and enjoy.
God created us for this glory and this is what the Church celebrates today. Even if we don’t reflect on that glory we have the hope that it is there, as Christ has promised us. And so we profess our faith that we will one day enjoy Christ’s glory when we come to be with him in the life of the resurrection. This is the mystery we celebrate today: Christ’s ascension is our glory and hope. In the pressures and stresses of our everyday lives, can we hold onto that hope within us?