PREPARING FOR THE WORD
Before you begin take a moment to pray, saying this short prayer by St. John Chrysostom or a prayer in your own words asking the Lord to open up your heart and mind to his Word.
O Lord Jesus Christ, open the eyes of my heart, that I may hear Your word and understand and do Your will.
REFLECTING ON THE WORD
At the heart of our Christian faith, we believe that in Jesus, his divine nature and his human nature were uniquely joined together in one person, Jesus. Yet coming to an orthodox understanding of the divinity and humanity of Jesus was a long and difficult struggle for the early Church, as the Greek thought world of Gentile Christians struggled to reconcile their philosophical ideas about divinity with the biblical revelation of God in the New and Old Testaments.
One of the most pernicious and deeply rooted heresies about Jesus was what came to be called Docetism, from the Greek word dokein,
which means “to seem”. Docetists argued that while Jesus was truly and fully divine, he only “seemed” to be human. His humanity, such as it was, was a kind of disguise, that could be put on or cast aside at will.
This beautiful solemnity of the mystery of the Ascension of the Lord is one of the ways in which the Christian tradition safeguards us from a Docetist understanding of Jesus, the Incarnation and our salvation in Christ.
The mystery that we celebrate in the Ascension is simply this, that Jesus, after his resurrection, returned, body and soul, in the flesh, to the Father. Let us ponder for a moment what that means.
The pre-existent and eternal Logos and Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, incarnate in Jesus, the son of Mary, not only became human but remained and remains one of us for all eternity in the very heart and being of the Triune God.
Not only that, but Jesus was changed, wounded actually, by his life among us. Think of how Jesus submitted to the very worst that we did to him, up to and including piercing his hands and his feet when he was nailed to the cross, and thrusting a spear into his side. His grieving mother and his friends buried his wounded, bleeding body in the earth. The Word by which the Father had created human beings from the earth, so loved this rebellious and lost creature formed from the earth, that he, too returned to the earth when he was placed in the tomb.
When the Father raised Jesus from the dead, Jesus was transformed, and his person was no longer confined by time and space. Yet his transfigured and transformed resurrected body still bore the wounds in his hands, feet and side. The Word which had become human remained human and had a history. And it was only when Jesus showed his wounds to the disciples that they recognized him.
In our readings the mystery of Jesus’ ascension is described in mystical images from the Old Testament. At Sinai, the Lord descended from the heavens to be in the midst of the Israelites, present, but veiled from their sight by a cloud. At the ascension, the Lord, present to the disciples in the person of Jesus, was lifted up
and veiled from their sight by the cloud.
What we celebrate in the Ascension is the culmination of the entire history of salvation. Humanity was alienated from God by the arrogant disobedience and rebellion of the first Adam.That alienation and separation were overcome forever by the humble obedience of the Second Adam. The first Adam and his wife Eve were expelled from paradise; the Second Adam, Jesus, with his bride, the Church,
re-entered paradise when Jesus was taken up into heaven on the day of his Ascension..
We too participate in the event of the Ascension,
as the Opening Prayer for today’s celebration says:
O God, whose Son today ascended to the heavens
as the Apostles looked on,
grant, we pray, that in accordance with his promise,
we may be worthy for him
to live with us always on earth,
and we with him in heaven.
We see in the event and mystery of the Ascension, a Savior, who, when the time came to return to his Father did not cast aside his humanity as one would a disguise or used set of clothes but instead bodily, bore our perfected human nature and his wounds into the very center of the Triune God, the first of many brothers and sisters who have followed himand will follow him.
In the person of Jesus, who ascended into heaven, our humanity is now eternally united with God. The Ascension is our celebration
of the Lord’s invitation to follow him into the new creation, into the new heaven and the new earth that is the communion of shared life and love that is who God is.
The Ascension both announces and completes our salvation in Jesus. As the great Church Father St.Athanasius of Alexandria wrote: “God became human so that humanity might become divine.” That we might share in the divine lifeis hope beyond hope and impossibly good news, but the ascension reveals to us that God not only loves us enough to die for us, but has made his total identification with us
eternal in the person of Jesus who has returned to the Father.
Another Church Father, St. Irenaeus of Lyon wrote in the third century: “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.” This is what God wishes and desires for us, to become fully human, that we might live transformed lives of mutual love and self-giving. Our love for each other, our self giving, glorifies God and is God’s glory. It is in this that we discover the significance of the wounds that Jesus bore when he returned to the Father. Each Sunday we offer our frail and wounded humanity,scarred by our failures and sins, and offer ourselves under the signs of bread and wine to God on this altar.
It is the gift of ourselves, which Jesus, who loves us beyond measure, offers to the Father at the altar. At the altar we are brought mystically into the very heart of God’s overflowing love and the simple gifts of bread and wine are returned to us, transformed into the Lord’s own Body and Blood, the medicine of immortality and eternal life
The power of his love brings healing and goodness even out our darkness and the injuries we inflict on ourselves and each other. Our glory and our hope is that we have been made into the Body of Christ. Jesus has made us, with all of our imperfections and failings,
his hands, his feet, his ears and eyes,his word and his heart in this world.
By returning to the Father, Jesus has united us with the Triune God forever and made us his Body so that his saving presence is available to all people everywhere until he comes again in glory.
Come, Lord Jesus!