Fr Dom's Homily
Year A 2020
Fr Dominic Orih
Sometimes what seems to be a departure is actually an arrival to new ways of being. Sometimes absence becomes presence in a new way. Sometimes disconnection is a trigger for connection in a new way.
When I think of Ascension, I think of the apostles who were downcast at the thought of Jesus leaving them. Jesus has been preparing them for this moment, and in the last few Sundays, we have listened to the long passage of John’s Gospel known as the Final Discourse of Jesus, where he was encouraging his disciples not to lose faith because he will be with them every step of the way. But as we know, it’s one thing to hear one thing, it’s another thing to listen to what you’ve heard and think of what it meant for you and your being in the world. While the apostles have heard the former, the later needed to be internalised. So, they felt that Jesus’ ascension is a departure of his presence and the absence of his power, while in actual fact, it is the dawn of a whole new presence and power like never before. If only they could see what the future holds for them, and all the great works they would do in the name of a God who promised them in the words of Jesus that they will do greater things than he has done, then they wouldn’t have felt so abandoned. But for us who have read what they were able to do by the power of the Holy Spirit in Acts of the Apostles, can now understand how much Jesus believed in them that they can do greater things in his name.
In our First Reading from Acts Chapter One, Luke addressed Theophilus about his earlier work (the Gospel of Luke) of all that Jesus had done and of all God continues to do through the apostles. Before ascending to heaven, Jesus asked them to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit and then, they can go and be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. The whole Acts of the Apostles is an account of the work God continues to do through the Mystical Body of Christ known as the Church. There is always the tendency to miss the bigger picture when you’re suffering in the situation you find yourself. For the apostles, it was a feeling of hopelessness and being lost as to what the future holds for them, without having Jesus physically present with them. They forgot that the presence of Christ extends beyond the physical nature of Jesus, to the full presence of Christ that surpasses any bounds or culture or tradition. The kind of presence that is available to us now.
So when St Paul writes in our Second Reading in his letter to the Ephesians and said “May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and perception of what is revealed, to bring you to full knowledge of him. May he enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you, what rich glories he has promised the saints will inherit and how infinitely great is the power that he has exercised for us believers.” It is because, it is true. We need our eyes to be opened to see what rich glory awaits us as children of God. Fear can only blind us to this truth, but when we walk by faith and not by sight, we can experience this revelation of God’s glory in our lives. Then we will know that ascension tells a greater story than Jesus ascending to heaven. It is a story that includes us too; a story that involves us ascending with Jesus Christ, ascending everything that hinders us from seeing the revelation of the truth that is in us which has been made manifest in us by the power of God working in us, for us and through us. When you think about it, in Christ’s ascension, we are given a glimpse of our final earthly destination, which is a beginning of new life in union with God. We come from love and we will return to love. As Jesus said in John 14:3, “where I am, you also will be.” So, in a way, a departure has become an arrival to a new way of being. Absence has become presence in a new way, and disempowerment has become empowerment.
Richard Rohr recounts, I remember once seeing a painting in a European museum of the Ascension. It was rather huge, and at the very top, right beneath the frame, were the bare feet of Jesus as He ascended into heaven. It almost felt comic. Most of the painting was the apostles looking up in various poses of fear, confusion, and awe. It struck me that the Ascension was the final stage of His human life, and every human life, when the material world returns to its spiritual Source.
The Ascension is about the final reunion of what appeared to be separated for a while: Earth and Heaven, human and divine, matter and Spirit. They are again one, and it was important that we see ordinary human feet going into heaven! If the Christ is the archetype of the full human journey, now we know how it all resolves itself in glory.
This is what it all means for us all - our perfect union with God. And may God bless you! Amen. Fr. Dom.