A Homily for the Ascension of our Lord
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus, the Risen Lord, who ascended into heaven and will return again on the last day. Alleluia. Amen.
Forty days after the Resurrection, after having walked the earth – an assurance that the Resurrection is a physical, bodily event, that we too shall be raised not just as disembodied spirits floating in the air but in a real, fleshy way – our Lord ascended. And this too was a physical event; just as he stepped down from heaven and became Incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Virgin Mary, taking on humanity in its fullness, so too did he ascend in his incarnate body.
It must have been quite a sight to behold, the Son of Man taken away on the clouds.
If this were a movie, the music would swell. We’d get tight shots of the apostles’ faces as they watch. John would have a serene look of contentment, Peter would cry a little, Thomas would look on in wonder. And then, just as the score reached its crescendo, Christ would disappear into the clouds and we would have a hard cut to black, a title card, and the credits.
But this isn’t a movie, and this isn’t the end of the story.
Saint Luke uses the Ascension as a bridge between his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. In the Gospel, Jesus tells the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for “power from on high,” and they return to the Temple and offer constant praise to God. In Acts, Christ promises them power from the Spirit and tells them they will carry the Good News throughout the countryside and to the ends of the earth, and then two angelic messengers assure them that Christ will return.
Because the story’s not over yet.
The apostles have work to do – as their name implies, they’ve been sent out. We’ll hear next week about how after Christ ascended, the Holy Spirit descended. And, if we were reading Acts in order, we would see all of the wondrous deeds the apostles did in the name of Christ: their bold preaching, their miraculous healings, how they drove out demons, taking up the work that Christ had done. Then we would meet this man named Saul, who persecuted the Church but then encountered the risen Christ and joined the apostles in their ministry, changing his name to Paul along the way. And we’d follow Paul to the ends of the earth and eventually, after a harrowing journey across the Mediterranean, beset by shipwrecks, we’d reach the end of Acts with Paul in Rome.
But that’s not the end, either: history and the Church’s Tradition teach us that Peter and Paul are eventually martyred in Rome – Peter inside the city and Paul just outside the walls.
And we’re not done yet: as we have learned, death is not the end.
For some two thousand years, the Church has endured through plague, war, and famine. We have stumbled and sinned and repented and fallen again. We know that we still have work to do, neighbors and enemies to love and serve, a Gospel to proclaim and live out. We know we will continue to do so imperfectly. But we endure because we know how this will end: just as the angelic messengers assured the apostles all those centuries ago, we know our Lord, who came down from heaven and became truly human, who died a human death and rose again with a human body, who physically ascended into heaven, will return. On the last day, the Incarnate, Crucified, and Risen Lord will come again riding on the clouds to restore all things.