Ascension of the Lord 2021
When He was on earth, the “Son of man [had] nowhere to lay his head” (Mt 8:20). He was born in a manger. He died on a cross. During his public life, he seemed to be always moving from one place to another, reaching out to new towns and new people because of His desire to bring the good news to all. Disciples tried to hold Him back, to keep Him for themselves for a while; but it did not work; He was always pressing further on. Enemies’ attempts to catch Him seemed finally crowned with success when they nailed Him to the cross. They taunted him: ‘Move now, if you can, come down from the cross, and we shall believe in you.’ They thought they were done with Him, but not even the tomb could keep Him. Risen from the dead, He was again on the way: now at Jerusalem, now in Galilee; on the road to Emmaus with the disciples, entering the house to stay with them, but disappearing as soon as He was recognised.
It is hard to follow Him and to keep the pace. Indeed, Jesus Himself once declared to the disciples: “Where I am going you cannot follow me now; but you shall follow afterwards.” (Jn 13:36) He probably meant the Cross, but not as a final point of His journey; rather, He considered it as a ladder that led Him further. This mystical ladder seemed at first to draw Him downwards: to the tomb and even to the depths of hell; but Jesus sprung, as it were, from this lowest point upwards to the seat which had been prepared for Him at the right hand of God.
We see Him today finally seated, peacefully poised, as someone who has run his course and is now quietly resting in His own place. What place is this? We remember Thomas’ question: “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Let us listen once more to Jesus’ illuminating answer: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” (Jn 14:5-6). Jesus was on the way to the Father. Moreover, He Himself is the way to the Father, the fixed link between here below and heaven, between the Father and each of his children. In his Resurrection and His Ascension, He opened once for all the way to the Father.
I know a charming old country house somewhere in Brittany. It once belonged to a retired prelate who had a Latin inscription sculpted over the entrance door. It reads: Hic est tantum diversorium, habitatio nostra in coelis est; which translates: This house is just an inn; our proper dwelling is in heaven. Isn’t it what we realise today?
We have welcomed Jesus among us, the Word dwelling in His creation, God-with-us. He came and His presence filled the world. Maybe we were secretly hoping that He would restore order, peace and prosperity in this world and make it a pleasant dwelling-place for us? But no: He went on; He showed us the direction of our true fatherland; He drew us to our proper dwelling. Our proper dwelling is in heaven. Yes, this world can be beautiful, and on a lovely day of spring, in a country blessed by general peace, and in an area more or less Covid-free, we may be tempted to rest peacefully and think that a good life on earth is enough. But, this is exactly what Christ’s Ascension has made impossible. This world is just an inn. It is not yet for us the time to rest. We have to follow Christ, to press on with Him to the Father.
Jesus ascending to the Father sends His disciples into the world. He puts them on the move: the internal move of constant conversion and the external move of evangelisation. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation”. “They went forth and preached everywhere.”
We, too, are sent today to our brothers and sisters with the good news of Christ’s resurrection, of God’s mercy, and of the promise of the Holy Spirit. In many ways, we are in the same situation as the first Christian generations. We are small and weak communities in a hostile or at best indifferent world. Moreover we are discredited by the sins and shortcomings of the past, and we preach to a largely secularised world where atheism is the default mindset of the majority. So, what shall we do?
I would suggest we have to be men and women who show by their choices and behaviour that there is another world; that life does not stop with our death; that our identity will flourish to the full in heaven; that already we belong to the heavens, by our baptism; that we are filled with a hope stronger than sin and death: the very hope which is embodied in the resurrection of Christ.
In order to announce Christ’s resurrection, we need to rely always more on God’s gift of grace. This is why, as our hearts accompany Jesus ascending to His Father and taking His seat in glory, we hope and pray, together with Our Lady, during the great Novena leading us to Pentecost for the gift of the Holy Spirit:
Come, Holy Spirit,
Spirit of fortitude and peace,
Spirit of truth and charity,
Spirit of hope and joy:
dwell in us,
cleanse us, sanctify us,
make of us, each in our vocation, co-workers of Christ’s gospel of life.
Come, Holy Spirit!
Abbot Xavier Perrin