The Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord into heaven has always observed in the Church as a holy day of obligation. One may wonder why Holy Mother Church places so much emphasis on the Ascension of Christ since He has died and conquered death with His Resurrection. Does this feast have much significance for us? Sometimes I wonder. If one were to gauge importance and significance of feasts such as the Ascension by attendance at Vigil or Divine Liturgy, one would have to say there is not much significance for the average believer. But church attendance and zeal for the faith are subject matter for a homily at another time.
The ascension of Christ certainly gives more value to our Christian faith. This is because the Ascension is a celebration of hope and reassurance, not just for the first Apostles but for the entire Church. It gives us the hope and reassurance that Christ has not only conquered death but has opened the gates of heaven for us so that, being the first born from the dead, all those who die in Him will gain direct entrance into heaven, if they have lived righteous and holy lives in accordance with His teachings and the laws of God.
I am sure a lot of people wonder why Christ has to physically ascend into heaven since He did not descend from heaven physically. The reason is that His physical ascension was to prove the fact that His glorified body was actually taken up to heaven with the fullness of His humanity. Thus, in the Ascension, we see the hypostatic union, the union of the human and divine natures of Christ, being manifested to the world. The Ascension is a confirmation that at the completion of our earthly pilgrimage, we shall also be united body and soul and ascend into heaven to be with our Lord and Master. The Ascension also symbolizes Christ’s physical absence in the world.
Ever since Christ physically ascended into heaven, there has been the temptation to deny His presence on earth. We have seen this happen time and time and time again throughout the centuries, with millions upon millions of people denying Christ, His teachings and His instructions. At no other time since the Ascension has this been more evident than in the times in which we now live. Growing numbers of people everywhere seem to be denying Christ and of those who do not, they seem to be trying to reimagine Him in their own image and likeness. Instead of embracing the truths which Christ has defined and instructed us in, they are intent on reinterpreting and redefining those truths in light of their own flawed reasoning and to suit their own narcissistic behavior.
Even though Christ has ascended into heaven to sit in glory at the right hand of the Father, he is not entirely absent from us. Christ is still present in and through the Church. In the Gospel of St. Matthew, Our Lord promised us that He would be with us until the end of time. Each time we celebrate the Word and the Holy Mysteries, especially the Eucharist, we encounter Christ in a very personal and intimate way. And of course He is still present in our fellow men. Certainly Christ is still in our midst! He has remained faithful to His promise to us and will continue to do so despite our stubbornness, pride and even our disbelief.
At His Ascension, Christ assumed the role of mediator, a facilitator and a judge. He is sitting at the right hand of God the Father to intercede for those He has redeemed, and that is why the Father grants whatever is asked in His name. As a facilitator, He has gone to make the promise of the Father come true – the descent of the Holy Spirit. He has gone to prepare a place for us in the “many mansions in His Father’s house” (John 14:3) so that where He is we may also be. As a judge, he sits at the throne ready to judge us at the end of our lives.
It saddens me greatly that people do not take seriously what will happen to them at their death. Many people are going to be quite surprised at what will happen on that day, at that very moment their soul departs from their body and they are standing before the majesty of God, before Christ sitting on the throne of judgment. I don’t know about you, but the mere thought of that day send chills up and down my spine. As much as I want and long to see my Lord and Savior, I tremble in fear because I know that I have a great deal to account for. I don’t know about you, but I want my experience with the Lord when I meet Him to be a joyful and happy one. That can only happen if I live my life according to His teachings and commands. Thus, I need to work out my salvation prayerfully, thoughtfully, seriously, conscientiously, and with great vigor. It is something you all must do too, if you want to enter paradise.
In the first Chapter of the Book of Acts (Acts 1:1-11), the angel tells the apostles that Jesus will come back in the same way as they have seen Him go. This second coming is what we regard as the Parousia, when Christ will come in glory to judge the living and the dead.
Therefore, my children, today we are reminded that Christ has not just gone back to heaven but He has also gone to prepare rooms for us in heaven. He will certainly return to judge our fidelity to the tasks He has entrusted to us and the instructions He has given us. Those who think otherwise are ignorant fools. The Lord knows the hearts and ways of the righteous. He also knows the hearts and ways of those who have turned from His ways.
If we have done what is right in the sight of God, if we have fought the good fight, we shall ascend with Christ to heaven where we shall live with Him forever. It that not the best thing in this world that we could hope for and desire? Nothing should excite us more than to live eternally with God. That goal should be our motivation and encouragement when life gets us down and wears us out.
My children, have you really taken time to consider the endless possibilities there are for you when you join your life to that of Christ? Certainly, it is not an easy life. IT does involve suffering and sacrifice, but from that suffering and sacrifice comes great joy and eternal happiness. Just think back about what happened after the Cross and the tomb.
Today, we are invited to be witnesses to the Good News by trying our best to be the bearers, to be evangelists, of the Good News and proclaim it to all people everywhere not just in words but in our actions as well. In fact, our proclamation to others should begin by the exemplary lives we live. Our lives may be the only bible an unbeliever has to read and if we do not proclaim it well, we will lose our reward. Remember what St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians as a reminder to us, “What hope our calling as believers holds for us, what rich glories He has promised the saints will inherit and how infinitely great is the power that he has exercised for us believers”. So, my beloved, do not lose this hope by the evil you do. Rather, repent of your ways, avoid sin, and proclaim the Good News by living a virtuous life. Then you can be sure that when Jesus comes again in glory, you will be numbered among the sheep at His right hand and your joy will be complete.