Sunday, 20 May 2012

Ascension Sunday, Year B, Shaftesbury

Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Mk 16:15-20
We keep today the feast of the Ascension, when we recall how after Our Lord had appeared to His disciples for 40 days after His Resurrection, He ascended into heaven.

In thinking about what to say about this feast this year I thought I’d point out the significance of the Ascension and the Resurrection being 2 different things. What I mean is this:
it was logically possible for Our Lord, when He rose from the dead, to IMMEDIATELY ascend to the Father in Heaven.
But He didn’t.
Instead He spent 40 days on earth first.
Now, my point to you today is that He did this for a reason, and recalling that can help show us the significance of this feast.

The reason He stayed on earth for 40 more days was for OUR sake, not His. And we heard the major part of that reason spelled out for us in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles: after He rose from the dead He not only rose but “SHOWED Himself alive after His Passion by many demonstrations for forty days” (Acts 1:3). i.e. it wasn’t just enough for Him to triumph over death but His disciples needed to KNOW that He had done so. As Pope Leo the Great put it, so that those who had been bewildered by His Passion, and initially doubted His Resurrection, might be convinced.

But there was still something more that they needed to know, that they needed to have demonstrated to them, and that was seeing, as our Gospel text put it, the fact that when He ascended it was “at the right hand of God [that] He took His place”(Mk 16:19).
That phrase, “the right hand of God” is one of those that might mean little to us yet to those who heard it they would have recognised it as a title indicating divine majesty for the one who sat there.

And there is another significance in this: by taking our human nature up into the divinity and into divine glory He also gained FOR US a share in the same if we are united to Him, if we are His followers, if we are partakers in the Divine nature by being sharers in His death and Resurrection.
It was for this reason that the letter to the Ephesians (that we heard in our second reading) spoke of us being called in “hope”(Eph 1:18). This is what the Collect [Opening Prayer] at Mass today indicated when it said, “where the Head has gone before in glory, the Body is called to follow in hope”.

So, to return to my opening point, the reason today’s feast is important is that we are recalling that all of this not only happened but that it was SHOWN to us, shown to us that we might know about it, and place our hope in it.
He did not simply rise from the death and instantly vanish into heaven,
but rather, for 40 days He showed Himself by “many demonstrations”
that we might have confidence in the reality of His Resurrection,
and confidence in the reality of His Ascension to heaven,
that we might strive to live so that we might one day join Him there.

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