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The Ascension of the Lord
The Ascension of the Lord
Significance of the Ascension
The event of the ascension requires a little thought. To say Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father, to read about Jesus being lifted up and a cloud taking him from their sight, might make us think that Jesus has gone to a place which is up there, in the sky, or in space. But at the ascension, Jesus takes his human body, his human soul, to God, to the heart of the divine life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus, true man and true God goes to God. And God is not in a particular place, God is not there but not here, or up there but not down here, God is the creator of all things but distinct from creation, God is not a part of creation but is keeping that creation in existence.
Neither the whole of Creation, nor even one little atom can be considered apart from God who keeps it in being, gives it meaning and existence, who is the reason why it is, who is the only way to fully understand it. Truly no part of creation is without God. And so Jesus who goes to God both leaves us, we can no longer see or touch him, but as part of God he becomes a part of everything, he is with us until the end of time, with every single atom of creation and in a particular way with every single person. So now, rather than just being known his apostles and those he has chosen, Jesus can be known and loved by all.
It is interesting that St Luke says a cloud took him from their sight. The cloud is the great symbol of the mystery of God being made known, being revealed, from the cloud that lead the Israelites through the desert, through the overshadowing of Mary at the annunciation to the cloud at the transfiguration. The cloud takes Jesus from our sight, takes his human body from our sight, but reveals him to the whole world as God.
Ascension as the fulfillment of Jewish temple prayers
Another way to think of the ascension is as part of the fulfillment of the Jewish temple prayers. Once a year the Jewish High Priest would enter the Holy Sanctuary at the heart of the temple in Jerusalem taking with him the blood of animal sacrifices to atone for the peoples' sins and to renew their friendship with God. At the ascension - once for all, Jesus the high priest who is God, enters into the heart of God, taking with him not the blood of animal sacrifices but the body and blood of his own human nature, a human nature like ours, a human nature offered in a sacrifice of obedience and love on the cross, offered knowingly and willingly on our behalf. And the acceptance of this sacrifice is shown by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the unreserved, unimpeded, forgiving love of God, poured out in the sacraments, uniting us in Christ and forming us into his body, the Church.
These two aspects of the ascension come together above all in Holy Mass. Mass is the privileged action where we acknowledge the sacrifice Jesus offers for us and allow ourselves by the power of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit to be united to that Sacrifice; and it is where the one who reveals the truth about the mystery of God and God's creation, gives himself to us as the true bread so that we may become what we eat, that we may become part of the mystery of God and the reason for, the meaning of and the truth about God's creation.