There are to my mind three things that need to be highlighted whenever we celebrate the feast of the Ascension.
First, the Ascension is the basis for the hope that we too will be able to be with God in heaven. The old penny box catechism taught us that human life has three purposes: to love God, to serve Him in this life and to be with Him in heaven. This third purpose becomes clearer in the light of the Ascension which remembers the ascent of Christ as the climax of a life-journey spent among us. This is an aspect of Luke’s gospel that can be gleaned from the Gospel reading of the Feast of the Ascension.
If we however look back at the Gospel readings from Lent onwards, we find that there have been Gospel selections that lend their light on the Feast of the Ascension. In John 12, for example, we find the Johanine passage which gives depth to passages about the sequela Christi (as found in the Synoptics). Just when Jesus begins to feel that his hour has come, he says (among other things): “If anyone would be my servant, let him follow me so that where I am there he shall also be.” The saying re-expresses in terms of the hour of Jesus, the command to carry one’s cross and to walk behind Jesus. The Johanine saying emphasizes the “servant’s” union with Jesus in the Paschal mystery. This passage from John 12 is given more depth in the Last Supper discourses where Jesus tells his disciples that he wants them to be where he shall be. This “being-with” not only includes the cross, but also the rising from death and the ascent to the Father. In this way, the Ascension of the Lord gives guarantee to what he has expressed as a desirethat his disciple be with him.
Second, the Ascension of the Lord signals the beginning of a new presence with his disciples. The Gospel readings from Easter Sunday, albeit taken from John, illustrate the kind of presence he will have among his disciples. In the selection from Easter, John narrates the appearance of Jesus among his disciples using an allusion to the Greek of Psalm 22:23 (LXX, Psalm 21:23): “I will tell of you to my brothers; I will praise you in the midst of the Church”. The Risen Lord will be present in the midst of the Church. But that presence will no longer be visible to physical eyes, as it was to Thomas. He will be present as the One Who is from Heaven: in Word and in Sacrament. Jesus has told his disciples that He and the Father will dwell in him who keeps His word and lives by it. He also said that He is the Bread come down from Heaven.
Third, the Lord’s ascension to Heaven is in a way also the ascension of the humanity He has assumed at the Incarnation. By doing so, He has somehow brought us before the Father such that whenever the Father looks at Him, He is looking at us. Paul puts it this way: “Your lives are hid before God in Christ.” (Col. 3:1ff) Our presence before God in Christ grounds our hope that we too will share in the kingdom of God and also justifies the conviction that even now we share in the life of God in, with and through Christ.
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