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This year, perhaps more than usual, I notice the expected flood of blog posts about the Ascension of the Lord to be focussing on one particular element. An important element to be sure (perhaps the core aspect of the feast we celebrate today. I, too, won’t be ignoring it, so let’s launch into the blogging.
I’ll start with a text from the Gospel of John, a section of the High Priestly Prayer (chapter 17, verses 1 to 5):
After saying this, Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said: Father, the hour has come: glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you; so that, just as you have given him power over all humanity, he may give eternal life to all those you have entrusted to him. And eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I have glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. Now, Father, glorify me with that glory I had with you before ever the world existed.
If we considered this text next to the Ascension narrative, one line leads us into the element I mentioned above. “Just as you have given him power over all humanity, he may give eternal life to all those you have entrusted to him”. Jesus does not ask for glorification for His own sake or that of His Father. No, he asks it for us. That His glorification may give us eternal life.
At Christmas we celebrate that God became man. From the very beginning the Church teaches us that Jesus Christ is fully man and fully God. This human nature allowed Him to share our lives; our joys, but also our troubles. In the Gospels there are numerous instances of that very human element: Jesus attends wedding parties, has dinner with friends, mourns their death and travels the human society in which He was born. This humanity was taken to Golgotha, suffered and died on the Cross, but was then taken through death into new life. We can’t do that for ourselves, but God can, and He did.
And like He led the way in defeating death, so too does He take the first step in leading His and our humanity towards heaven. And, as is almost expected of Jesus, He does so in a very basic and down-to-earth (if you’ll pardon the pun) way. He shows us the way by going it Himself. And from His place at the right-hand of the Father – the place of humanity at the Lord’s side – He helps us by promising to send us the heavenly advocate, the Holy Spirit:
John baptised with water but, not many days from now, you are going to be baptised with the Holy Spirit. (Acts, 1:5)
Ascension Day does not stand alone. It comes from Christmas and Easter and then leads into Pentecost. This very human journey of the Lord has become a heavenly one, and so will our humanity become heavenly too. Jesus has led the way, and now calls us to follow Him, in our earthly life, but ultimately with heaven on the horizon.
Blessed Ascension Day!