The Church is enveloped today in a wonderful surprising joy. After having shown Himself during the past forty days risen and alive to His Disciples; having rescued them from the anguish of death and failure, making them certain of His victory and His glorious Resurrection; after having made Himself recognizable in the breaking of bread and through the precious wounds imprinted on His risen body, Jesus ascends to Heaven, withdraws from the gaze of His followers and sits in glory at the right hand of His Father.
The joy of the disciples is surprising: for having overcome the dramatic days of the Passion and the Sepulchre, they had recently had their Lord and Master back with them, and, now, He disappears from their sight, is removed from their eyes by the cloud of God’s glory, yet they are so full of joy!
There is a difference. There is a radical novelty. This time it is no longer about the separation caused by death. He is facing the fulfillment of a “journey of love” which began in the heart of the Trinity and passed through the supreme gift of the Cross. It now reaches its goal. Jesus brings our mortal flesh, risen and transfigured, into the mystery of God: Adam, having left the garden because of his pride and his sin, is readmitted to full communion with the Creator.
Whilst the disciples are still looking upwards, as if enraptured and fascinated, they are presented with two men in white clothes, two divine messengers, who remind them of the awareness of their task and mission received from Jesus:
“Men of Galilee, why are you looking up at the sky? This Jesus, who was taken up from amongst you into heaven, He will come in the same way you saw Him go to heaven”.
Between Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven and His glorious return, at the end of time, the Church must proclaim the Gospel to all peoples; she must bear the witness of the Risen One, relentlessly, to the ends of the earth, immersing all humanity in the mystery of the Trinity, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The angels’ question is not, therefore, an invitation to disinterest themselves in the Lord, but an exhortation not to delay any longer in obeying the command of Jesus.
Today, perhaps, those same messengers could also ask us a similar question, but formulated in a different way: “... why don’t you look up to Heaven anymore?”
Humanity, once again, with the same presumption as Adam, has chosen to go far from God, no longer recognizing in Him the only author of creation and of human life, and has lost itself in the plots of history and in the meanness of hatred towards each other.
Many disciples of the Lord Jesus also seem to have lost the fundamental orientation of life. Repeatedly, during the Easter season, the liturgy made St. Paul’s heartfelt and consoling appeal resound in our hearts and minds:
“If therefore you have risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; turn your thoughts to the things above, not to those of the earth. In fact, you are dead and your life is hidden with Christ in God!” (Col 3: 31-33)
Only when humanity is well “anchored” in God can it face the stormy waves of history. Only the awareness of an eternal destiny, now certain, can give the strength to resist the temptation of sadness and despair. Only the certainty of divine paternity can move each man and woman to live an authentic human fraternity.
There is no real and fruitful commitment in history that does not arise from a living relationship with the Lord, Creator and Saviour. There is no authentic life of faith that does not translate into a joyful proclamation of the Gospel and laborious and inexhaustible charity.
“Your life is hidden with Christ in God!”
In a period of history as dark and distressing as ours is today, can we await a more consoling and more hopeful announcement than this? : We are already citizens of Heaven: we already live in God!
We look to Heaven to understand the earth again. We look to Heaven to rediscover the beauty of our life as men and women of faith. We look up to Heaven to find enthusiasm, passion and courage in living joyfully our daily life.
Custody of the Holy Land
Fr Luke Gregory, ofm