HOMILY FOR FEAST OF THE ASCENSION


The unusual phrase ‘The Hook of Faith’ is intended to remind us that faith in Jesus can and should capture our interest and commitment as it provides us with a profound and satisfying understanding of human life, giving that life a deeper meaning and significance by proclaiming the God of love incarnate in Jesus our Lord and Saviour. In that context the Ascension of the risen Jesus to the fullness of divine life with the Father in heaven has an important part to play in the mystery of Jesus’ resurrection. One has to admit, however, that our culture in Ireland these days has become strongly secular and makes it very difficult for our Christian faith to be as attractive and powerful as in earlier times in our country.

While this mystery of our faith is very much part of our Christian beliefs about Jesus, it is important and perhaps surprising to be informed by biblical scholars that it is not mentioned at all by St Matthew in his gospel and only once by St Paul in his epistles. The silence of the other NT books on the ascension is remarkable, says one scholar. St Luke is the main source of our information about the ascension. In Luke 24.50-1 we read: ‘… he [Jesus] took them [the apostles] as far as the outskirts of Bethany, and raising his hands he blessed them. Now as he blessed them, he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven. They worshipped him…’.

Luke speaks of the ascension also in the Acts of the Apostles 1.9-11. We may note too that in the OT many holy figures were said to be taken up to heaven, e.g., Moses. Such an ascension indicated divine approval as well as their accession to heavenly power. In Jesus’ case this was true also. His ascension is the final event of his earthly life and ministry and is presented in terms of going up, ascending, since that was how the Jewish faith conceived of heaven and God’s presence. Luke alone in the NT presents Jesus’ ascension as taking place 40 days after the resurrection. This clearly separates it from the resurrection. But scholars today insist that this doesn’t imply two distinct mysteries. Rather this is Luke’s way of making a parallel with Jesus’ 40 days in the desert as he prepared for his ministry. Luke’s 40 days here gives the disciples their 40 days to prepare for their ministry of preaching Jesus as Lord and Saviour. So the ascension is really an element or aspect of the basic mystery that is the resurrection, which involves the elevation of the risen Jesus to God’s right hand in divine life, power and majesty. In consequence Jesus has received from the Father the Holy Spirit, who was promised and what you see and hear is the outpouring of that Spirit (Acts 2.33).

Where Jesus has gone we hope to follow. In other words, our faith tells us that we as disciples of Jesus have as our final destiny a share in the fullness of divine life in heaven after our earthly Christian journey has ended. This adds new and deeper significance to our daily living as Christians and calls us to live that life of discipleship after the pattern of Jesus’ life and teaching. If this is the quality of our Christian living, then after the example of Jesus we too will attain the fullness of life with God in heaven.

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