MAY 21, 2009- THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD: EPHESIANS 1:17-23; MARK 16:15-20

 

AFTER SPEAKING WITH THE APOSTLES THE LORD JESUS WAS TAKEN UP INTO HEAVEN AND TOOK HIS SEAT AT GODíS RIGHT HAND. The Ascension of our Lord that we celebrate today is an event integral with the resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Liturgy faithfully reflects the Biblical accounts of these three moments by separating them in time. Todayís feast is the fortieth day after the Resurrection; Pentecost will be commemorated in ten days. This arrangement, however, involves a measure of simplification, as is often the case when an attempt is made to represent historical reality that lives on in its consequences. Few happenings in history have had more consequences for our human family and for the Church in particular, than our Lordís Ascension.

 

The Gospel text we have just heard is the ending added on to the original closing lines of Markís Gospel account. It represents a summary of St. Lukeís version of Jesusí final appearance to his disciples after he had risen and over a period of time instructed them further in their mission to the world. When we examine the several other texts that present the Ascension, especially that in Saint Johnís Gospel, it is evident that Jesus ascended to the Father already on the evening of the same day of the Resurrection. However, in repeated appearances he completed his instructions to them during a period that Luke designates as forty days, employing Biblical code expression for a limited time. Our Lord had already pointed out at the last supper the necessity of his definitive departure, for in the Fatherís plan, only after he completed his personal mission would the Holy Spirit come to them. Saint Luke is in full accord with John in depicting Jesus as departing in his bodily form to ascend to the Father as a condition for sending with the Father their Spirit, thus inaugurating the time of the Church that continues to this day. The Spirit who is given to all the faithful through the ages, to be sure, does no more act on his own than Jesus did. Just as the Lord always acted in obedience to the will of the Father as he declared, so also, he further explained, the Spirit brings to mind Jesusí teaching. By the Spirit, the Lordís presence continues to animate his followers.

 

Saint Paul, who by way of exception encountered the risen Christ in his glorified body, never forgot the experience. He meditated on the event intent on grasping its significance as fully as he might. In the passage from his Epistle to the Ephesians that we heard a few moments ago, he states at some length a conclusion he arrived at that expresses his appreciation for the extent of the influence of the Ascension which extends to the whole of the cosmos and beyond. After praying that God enlightens our innermost vision that we might know:

 

the immeasurable scope of his power in us who believe. It is like the strength he shoed in raising Christ from the dead and seating him at his right hand in heaven, high above every principality, power, virtue, and domination, and every name that can be given in this age or the age that is to come.

 

The Ascension, in this revealed understanding, actively operates even now, continuing its influence not only upon the visible, sensible world in all its cosmic extent but operates as well in other worlds and will do so through ages to come. In our times when the best minds in science tell us that our cosmos that continues to expand at an increasing rate is but one of parallel or implicate worlds, these words of Paul take on more expansive and immediate significance. The very concrete nature of reality as explored by the most sophisticated instruments, points to the existence of worlds unsuspected, yet exerting their influence on our own cosmos. Christ, Paul tell us, is high above all worlds in this age and in the ages to come. The active presence of the glorified Christ at the right hand of the Father is not limited by time or space, nor is it confined to what our senses can perceive. For he is no longer subject to the law of nature but lives by the power of God, transcending all creation, including the worlds of angels.

 

The Ascension of Jesus finalizes the new creation initiated at the resurrection that is characterized by the presence of a material body that lives by the life of God, no longer subject to and dependent on the natural law of our cosmos. Our own destiny is implicated and, in principle, activated by this event. Through the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost we are given a share in this new creation that relates us to the whole of existence, to God himself and to all the worlds he has or will create. Saint Paul, pursuing the implications of this insight later in this Epistle, encourages us to have confidence for we have access to this surpassing mystery in Christ Jesus. We are to show our gratitude by lives worthy of persons called to share this surpassing glory of the members of the one body of the glorified Christ.

 

This is the reality we celebrate today at this Eucharist through which we even now enter into communion with the Lord of glory whose love and power are the source of our hope and the goal of all our striving. &


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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