Thursday, 30 May 2019

Hope of Heaven, Ascension Year C

Lk 24:46-53; Eph 1:17-23
It might be asked, ‘What relevance is the Ascension?’
I’d like to offer part of the answer to this question by contrasting the ‘joy’ of the apostles with a certain despair people sometimes have today.
The Apostles left the scene of the ascension ‘full of joy’ –they’d had a glimpse of Heaven.

I can remember talking about Heaven to a woman once, and she said, most bizarrely, “I hope there is no heaven. It would be awful to think about this life going on and on and on. Life is so full of suffering that I hope it just ends at death”.
A particularly gloomy way of expressing it, but a thought that many people have in different ways.
The problem with this thought is that it thinks of Heaven as just being a continuation of Earth.

Heaven is not just a mere continuation of Earth.
All through Easter, the second reading at Sunday Mass has been taken from the book of Revelation –a book full of much complex symbolism, with talk of dragons, beasts, and battles, but a book that makes one thing clear:
The Lord who rose from the dead will also be victorious in a final vanquishing of the Devil, and he will vanquish all that the Devil has caused: sin, suffering, sadness.
“Never again will they hunger, never again will they thirst… God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev 7:16-17)
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain, for order of THIS WORLD is passing away”. (Rev 21:4).
Heaven will NOT be like the world we know now.

So, What will heaven be like?
Well, some things we don’t know. As St Paul says, ‘Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).
But, we do know some things. Beyond knowing that there is no suffering, we know that every need and hope of the human heart will be satisfied. This is a central part of what the Ascension teaches us –Christ took His body to Heaven, and our bodies will be bodily satisfied there.
We will not be angels in Heaven. As I preached recently (see here), we will not be mere spirits
As we say in the creed, we believe in ‘The Resurrection of the Body’
Every need and desire my body now has will be satisfied in Heaven, and more.

One of the mistakes that believers have made through the ages, and that the apostles made frequently before the Holy Spirit came upon them, was to think that the Kingdom of Heaven would be like a kingdom on Earth
-even in that opening passage from Acts, the apostles were asking the Risen Lord if He was going to restore an EARTHLY Kingdom to Israel.

Our Gospel passage ended with the Apostles, ‘full of joy’. Why? Because they had seen a glimpse of Heaven. They had seen the Lord glorified as He was ascended. They had begun to grasp what it was all about.
They, like us, live to follow our Lord.
He died, and we must die to sin.
He rose, and we hope to rise to a new life of grace.
He ascended, and we hope, if we are faithful, to enter the glory of Heaven with Him.
While we live on this world, we carry our Cross, as He carried His cross.
But the life of the Cross will not last forever. Suffering will end.
As St Paul said in our 2nd reading, the Lord has “promised” (Eph 1:20ish) “rich glories” to the saints.
And, “the one who made the promise is faithful” (Heb10:23 –alt 2nd reading)

If we look to Heaven, if we look to our Ascended Lord, then the joy of the apostles will also be ours, because we will have faith to share His Glory.

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