The Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord into heaven forces us to reflect on a reality with which we are totally unfamiliar. We had a beginning, (having been born at a recorded time and in a very specific place); we are living in time and space, but with a solemn pledge of immortality made to us through the divine rebirth of Baptism.
This pledge of immortality is reaffirmed every time we feed on Jesus as the Bread of life in Holy Communion. As soon as we pause to reflect on this divine call which opens for us a boundless future of bliss and glory with no end and no closure, our puny minds get overwhelmed.
For this reason St. Paul invokes for us the Father of glory to give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation: May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe… (Ephesians 1:18-19)
St. Augustine who, with his superior intellect, reflected extensively on these sublime realities beyond time and space, writes that when the Lord Jesus, at a specific time and place, took on human flesh like ours, he did not leave the Father’s side in heaven. And, when he ascended to heaven to receive from the Father the fullness of his glory for his obedience unto death on a cross, he remained also with us on this earth. (cf. Matthew 28:20) This is the sublime, incredible, hard to grasp and even harder to enjoy reality in which we are called to live by divine decree.
All three readings of this Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord Jesus into glory mention (in slightly different ways) a call to action that is meant to keep us constantly engaged and thoroughly motivated by love of the Lord Jesus until we attain a share in his endless glory. If we are motivated by love, it would be unbecoming of us to ask: “Lord, are you at this time (this year, in our case) going to restore the kingdom of Israel?”
In this reality that transcends time and space, fear and love are in inverse proportion to each other. While we are sustained by the unwavering hope of a share in Jesus’ endless glory, we are called to bear witness to him and to preach repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, to the ends of the earth.
To be effective in our bearing witness to God’s direct intervention in the sorry and sin-filled plight of humanity, we ought to let the Holy Spirit free us of fear as much as possible so that we may be motivated by love.
Yet, throughout the history of the Church there have arisen people spurred into action solely by fear of impending doom. They have preached and keep preaching a gospel void of good news, i.e. void of itself.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)
Our risen Lord Jesus Christ wants us to be effective preachers of the good news. That simply means that we are expected to be love-motivated proclaimers of the Gospel. As we live sustained by the unwavering hope of a share in unending glory we ought, first, to live repentance for the forgiveness of our sins as a joyful experience nurturing and sustaining our love for the Lord.
Being that repentance is the core of the Gospel, it has to be a resolute reorientation of our whole life towards the Lord. That reorientation fills us with gratitude for the Blood of Christ which washed away our sins; it fills us with humility because of our acknowledged inability to free ourselves from the shackles of sin and fills us also with joy because assurance of having being forgiven enables us to face the challenges of life with full confidence and trust in the Lord. Thus, gratitude, humility and joy are the three emotions that will make us effective witnesses of the Gospel especially by the way we lead our life and by the choices we make.
It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)
We carry out our mission motivated by as much human love as we can have on this earth. We shall see to it that our love is free of as much fear as possible and it is always sustained by the Holy Spirit.
The time to restore the Kingdom of Israel should not be our concern because the Father alone knows how deeply each one of his children by adoption lives with the firm belief that Jesus’ resurrection, his victory over all evils, death included, is unstoppable and irreversible.
Our mission will be more effective if, in humble acknowledgement of our frailty, we are mindful that direct exposure to evil and fear of impending trials can scare us more than we can be heartened by goodness all around us as it (goodness) tends to be silent and unassuming.
Therefore, it is imperative that today’s Solemnity of the Ascension strengthens and intensifies our reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who will sharpen our awareness that we are and remain forever the objects of God’s love. It is the Holy Spirit who, whenever we are fatigued by the weight of our mission and discouraged, will keep reminding us that we are destined to share in the fullness of Christ’s glory according to the Father’s ageless plan:
And he (the Father) put all things beneath his feet (Jesus’) and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way. (Ephesians 1:22-23)
Having had a beginning in time; living still in the confinements of time and space; we need to make the strongest act of faith, ever, in the infinitude of God’s love beyond what we cannot grasp and keep believing that nothing will ever separate us from that love. (cf. Romans 8:39)