Photo courtesy of NASA

We all have a role in God’s divine plan

  • April 27, 2016

Ascension of the Lord (Year C) May 8 (Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:17-23; Luke 24:46-53)

What is it like to ascend to the heavens? The sight of astronauts floating effortlessly around a space station or outside on a repair mission has become so commonplace that it doesn’t even elicit much comment. When we read the account of the Ascension in Acts, it seems to pale in comparison to the accomplishments of our own time.

But the Ascension should not be understood in a spatial sense — God is not “up there” somewhere in the sky, and neither is Heaven. No space mission, even Star Trek, will ever find it. Ascending in the spiritual sense means being so attuned and harmonized with God that one is on an infinitely higher plane of existence. For all we know, Heaven might be all around us, but not visible to our feeble and clouded senses. Ascension is not about where Jesus went, but who and what He is. It points us in the direction that we all must travel someday.

Before that, however, Jesus had to continue the process of instruction and enlightenment, as in the story of Emmaus and the appearance in the upper room in the Gospel of Luke. He opened the Scriptures for them so that they could see that He had been in the process of coming into the world for centuries. Often what we look and yearn for is right in front of our eyes but we fail to see or understand it. They were anxious to see their own expectations fulfilled, as are most people. They demanded to know when He was going to kick out the Romans and re-establish the kingdom of Israel. Jesus brushed aside their queries, in effect telling them that it was none of their business. That is up to God, and God is the one in charge.

This is a fundamental principle that people always forget. They were to receive but one thing: the gift of the Spirit as promised by John the Baptist. This would empower them for a mission, and that mission was to be witnesses to Jesus to the ends of the Earth. As they stood gawking at the ascending Jesus, they were admonished by the two mysterious figures in white robes to focus on the mission. The mission is here, on this Earth, and in this life. That is where our focus should always be — if we do that, Heaven will take care of itself.

All of the spatial language in Ephesians is meant to portray the power, status and authority of the Risen Christ. The prayer for His followers is that they receive the spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they can come to know the Lord. The eyes of the heart must be enlightened — knowing the Lord is not a process of reasoning or an intellectual exercise. The eyes of the heart represent the deeper part of ourselves — the intuition, feelings and spiritual understanding. The Christ whom we come to know will not be the one written about in books or even preached from pulpits. He will paradoxically be one whom we never knew but always knew, and in this encounter we will be transformed.

Jesus continued enlightening His disciples as He had on the road to Emmaus. He dealt with the biggest stumbling block for early Christians: why did the Messiah suffer and die? The answer was simple: because He had to; it was part of the divine plan and not a fluke or accident. This would make possible the gift that would be proclaimed to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem: repentance and forgiveness of sins. God’s salvation was to be offered to all the peoples of the Earth. To fulfill this mission, they were to be clothed with power from on high — the Holy Spirit. For this reason, they were instructed to remain in Jerusalem.

God is always at work, and the process of redemption continues. Disciples of Jesus cannot be focused exclusively on their own salvation or spiritual progress. All of humanity is in this together, and each one of us has a crucial role to play. Our response to that call or lack of it will say a lot about the quality of our discipleship. The Holy Spirit has not departed; it merely waits to be awakened with us. So much depends on our willingness to follow its lead.