Solemnity of the Ascension

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Here is my reflection for Morning Prayer on the Solemnity of the Ascension at our deacon formation weekend earlier today.

Jesus offered one sacrifice for sins and took his seat forever at the right hand of God; now he waits until his enemies are placed beneath his feet. By one offering he has forever perfected those who are being sanctified.

Hebrews 10:12-14

Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Ascension, reported by St. Luke in both his Gospel and The Acts of the Apostles, represents the completion of our Lord’s earthly ministry. After the Resurrection, Jesus spent the next forty days in the company of the Apostles, appearing, as St. Paul recounts, “first to Cephas, then to the Twelve,” then to, “more than five hundred brothers at once. … After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me” (1 Cor 15:5-8). After those forty days, Jesus was taken up into heaven and “took his seat forever at the right hand of God” (Heb 10:12).

To proclaim that Jesus sits at the right hand of God is not intended as an expression of confidence in His physical location in relation to the Father.  It is a declaration of our faith in Jesus’ divinity, that He is Lord and God. Jesus, fully human and fully divine during His earthly ministry, and raised from the dead at the Resurrection, is now raised to glory at His Ascension.

It is our faith, too, that the Ascension does not represent the cessation of the Incarnation. Rather, when the Second Person of the Holy Trinity assumed flesh and became man, He did so for all eternity. Fully divine, He remains fully human. Jesus, even in His glory, is Emmanuel, God-with-us. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council, in addressing the mystery of the Incarnation, wrote, “Human nature, by the very fact that it was assumed, not absorbed, in him, has been raised in us also to a dignity beyond compare” (GS, 22). In assuming our human nature, Jesus has raised up the dignity of what it means to be human. In His Ascension, and from where He sits at the right hand of the Father, He now calls us to the glory of the culmination of our salvation, when we “may come to share in the divine nature” (2 Pt 1:4).

When Jesus was raised to glory at His Ascension, He did not leave us behind. He promised that He would be with us “until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20b). He sent us the Holy Spirit, the divine, eternal love shared between Father and Son. “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always,” Jesus said, “the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, … I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (Jn 14:16-17a, 18).

At last, in a gift beyond our imaginations, Jesus gave us His very self in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Lawrence Feingold, Catholic theologian and convert from Judaism, says that Christ “instituted the Eucharist to be the sacrament by which He would continue to dwell with His disciples on earth in His sacred humanity, even as His body would ascend into heaven. … In order to overcome the limitations of space and time, He devised a way to continue to be present not just in one place, but in all the churches of the world, through all the ages, for everyone who was to come into the world.”

In the Eucharistic celebration offered on every altar of the Church, and which we will celebrate here today, Christ makes present the one offering of which the Letter to the Hebrews speaks, so that disciples of every age and place, and we here today, may participate in that one sacrifice by which we are “forever perfected.”

Here is Jesus present among us, body, blood, soul, and divinity. Here He is no less present than He was present in the womb of His Blessed Mother, then later in her gentle arms. Here He is no less present than He was present on the cross, suffering for our sake. Here He is no less present than He was present at the Resurrection, when He emerged from the tomb. Here He is no less present than He is now present at the right hand of God, the Father almighty. This Blessed Sacrament, worthy of our adoration, worthy of our devotion, worthy of our love, is our crucified, risen, and ascended Lord present among us, truly “the source and summit of our faith” (LG, 11).

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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