I’m sometimes jealous of the people in the Old Testament. They were so often able to talk directly to God. A couple of weeks ago we heard the story of God talking to Abraham, telling him that he would become a great nation. He spoke to the prophets who, in turn, passed on his message to the Jewish people. And when you read the story of the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt to the Promised Land, it seems that Moses had a special calling plan to God – he was talking to him all the time.
“God, these people are grumbling – they’re thirsty.”
“OK Moses, just strike that rock with a stick and everything will be fine.”
And then a little while later: “God, these people are still grumbling – they’re getting sick of all that manna.”
“Moses, I’m getting sick of all that complaining. Wasn’t it enough that I saved them from Pharaoh? Maybe I should just destroy the whole bunch and start over.”
“No, please God, wouldn’t you get sick of manna after eating it every day for 30 years?”
“OK Moses, I’ll send some quails. I’ll send so many quails, they’ll be sick of them soon!”
Well, it didn’t go exactly that way, but clearly in the Old Testament, God communicated in a very direct way with his people.
God’s communication with humans changed completely with Jesus. God could now speak to humans as a human: no thundering voice from the clouds, no burning bush – a real human person! Think about the wonderful gift that God gave us. And that’s why we say that in Christ, God’s revelation to humans was complete. There’s nothing more. We’re still learning more about what God told us through Jesus, but in fact, with Jesus, the story is finished.
God still speaks to us, but now he speaks through the Holy Spirit – we’ll hear more about that next week. But that’s why today is so important. Today, we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. Jesus’ glorified body was taken directly to the Father. We know from the stories that followed the Resurrection, that Jesus’ body was different. It wasn’t bound by time and space. Jesus just appeared in the locked upper room. The disciples who walked with him on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize him until the he broke bread with them.
But while Jesus’ body was different, many of the accounts of Jesus between the Resurrection and the Ascension focused on making the apostles and others (but especially the apostles) understand that Jesus’ body had truly risen.
Why is that so important? Well, it’s important because it confirms all of his teachings. He said he would die and rise, and he did. St. Paul says: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.” Nothing counts if Jesus’ body didn’t rise from the dead.
But in the Ascension of Jesus’ body to heaven, Jesus accomplished one more very important thing. We heard in the Gospel that Jesus took his place at the right hand of God. In this act, divinity and humanity are joined in a way that had not happened before. And that unity will last forever.
The apostles, who had known Jesus as a man, had such a difficult time understanding that he was also God. The Ascension clearly showed them – and us – the divinity of Christ. And the apostles were witnesses to it. St. Leo was a pope around the year 400. He described the Ascension, and what the apostles saw and understood: “[they] saw man’s nature rising above the dignity of the whole heavenly creation, above the ranks of angels, above the exalted status of archangels. Nor would there be any limit to its upward course until humanity was admitted to a seat at the right hand of the eternal Father.” Humanity – and we are part of humanity – took its place at the right hand of the Father. Do you see why the Ascension is so important?
When we read the Book of Genesis, we hear that we humans are made in the image and likeness of God. Does that mean that we are both human and divine? Yes – we are body and soul. We are not “little gods,” we are not just like Jesus, but we are not entirely different – we are the image and likeness of God; we have a divine essence.
Wayne Dyer is a popular spiritualist, and he said that we aren’t human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience. But while we spend lots of time worrying about our physical being (clothes, food, housing, money, sex, etcetera), we spend relatively little time concerned with our spiritual being.
A very wise man (it may have been Father Paul) was talking to one of the seniors at St. Thomas Aquinas High School. The conversation went something like this:
So what are you going to do when you graduate?
I’m going to university. I got my acceptance letter last month.
What did you do to get accepted?
Well, I worked really hard all through high school.
And what will you do after university?
I’ll get a job that pays lots of money.
And how will you do that?
Well, I’ll work really hard all through university.
And what will you do when you make lots of money?
I’ll buy a big house and a nice car.
And how will you be sure you keep that job so you can buy that house and car?
I’ll work really hard, and I’ll suck up to the boss if I have to.
And what will you do after you have the house and the car?
Then I’ll get married and have kids.
How can you be so sure you’ll get married?
Well, I’ll keep myself in good shape, and girls like guys with lots of money.
What will you do after you have the family?
Well, eventually I guess I’ll retire.
And how will you prepare for retirement?
I’ll max out my RRSPs, put extra money away, and I’ll make sure I have hobbies or something to keep me busy when I stop working.
And what will you do after retirement?
What do you mean? There’s nothing after retirement.
Will you die?
Oh, yeah, of course.
And how will you prepare for dying?
This is getting too complicated. I think I’ve got a headache.
Like our fictitious friend, we try to plan for everything – careers, family, material possessions, retirement. Many of us make up a detailed list before we go to the grocery store, and I’m told that some folks make a written plan of what TV shows they’re going to watch each week.
The Ascension of our Lord reminds us that we’re really only “passing through.” Our real career, our real home – our real future – is with Jesus in heaven. Jesus’ time to be physically on earth was short, but as we hear over and over in the gospels, his focus was always on his Father – on his real home – our real home.
In the Gospel today, Jesus says: “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.” But it’s clear that there’s more than just being baptized – there must be actions as well. Jesus says: “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons, speak in tongues, pick up snakes, drink deadly things without being harmed, heal the sick.” Now some of these things, like picking up snakes and drinking deadly things, we don’t want to try at home. But Jesus is telling us two things: first, that if we are baptized followers we have to act – we have to do something; and second – when we act, he will be with us.
In the Ascension, we see so clearly the divinity and majesty of Jesus – our brother. We are reminded of the divine spark that we all carry – the divinity within each one of us – and we are asked to focus on those things that will bring us to our true, divine home.
St. Paul said it very well, and I’ll end with his words: “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:17-19)