After the passion and death on the cross, Jesus Christ appeared to his disciples for forty days at different time and different places to show that He is risen from the dead. He gave them his final instructions. He appeared to them for final time on the mount Olive near Bethany and commissioned them to go to the whole world and preach the good news. Now when He had spoken these things to the disciples, on their seeing He was lifted up in heaven. A cloud received Him out of their sight. Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father in glory. This is the event of Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
We hear about this Christ Event, viz. Ascension of Our Lord, in the Gospel reading of the day. St. Luke describes about this event in his first (Gospel) and the second (Acts of the Apostles) books. Today’s first reading was from the Acts of the Apostles. St. Paul has also spoken in his letter to the Ephesians about how Jesus Christ ascended into heaven in all power and glory and is seated at the right hand of God. All this indicates that the Ascension of Our Lord is an important and final Christ Event. It is one of the foundational pillars in Christian faith. Not only Sacred Scriptures but the faith tradition of the faithful is witness to this.
It is said that there are footprints of Jesus Christ on the mount Olive, from where Jesus Christ ascended into heaven. Many people who go for the pilgrimage to the Holy Land do visit this site and enrich their faith.
To lead you into the mystery and history of the Ascension I would like to draw your attention into the three biblical references.
1. Gen 11:1-9:- This reference is about Tower of Babel. Here we are told how people planned to build themselves a city and a tower whose top would be in the heavens. The did attempt to do so. But their plan failed because their purpose was inspired by selfishness, ambition and pride.
2. Gen 28:10-22:- This is a reference that mentions about Jacob’s Dream. Jacob is journeying from Beersheba toward Haran and in a place called Luz, while putting up a night saw a dream. He dreamed that a ladder was set up on the earth whose top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. God spoke to him saying, “I am the Lord, God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants…and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed…”
3. Mt 26:63-64:- This is a reference of Jesus in front of the Sanhedrin. The High priest under the oath of the living God asked Jesus, “Tell us if you are the Christ, Son of God!” Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
All the three passages seem to hint at the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ. God created humans in his likeness and image. We were in ‘Grace’ and shared His holiness and justice and in the glory of God, the Father. But, we lost that Grace of God when Adam and Eve, the primordial man and woman, disobeyed and sinned against God. We lost that heavenly bliss we have had before. we are deprived of the access to the tree of life.
We are not sure of the historicity of the event of the Tower of Babel. However, it does tell us a religious truth that we our own cannot have access to heaven. We have salvation without the grace of God. However, God did not leave humankind in their sinful and broken situation. He chose Abraham and proceeded ahead with the salvation history of humankind. This salvific plan of God gets fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Ascension of our Lord is an important Christ event of that salvific mystery and history. It is in that way, that dream of Jacob becomes a type for Ascension of Our Lord. This dream of Jacob is fulfilled in the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact Jesus Christ is that “ladder” on which not only angles of God but also people of God ascend to heaven. It is in Jesus that we have full of Grace and truth (Jn 1:14) and of His fullness we have all received grace upon grace (Jn1:16). By one man’s (Adam) disobedience we had lost that original Grace of God and by one man’s (Jesus) obedience we have been restored that grace. In Jesus Christ, God and humans have reconciled again. It is by Jesus’ becoming that ladder, heaven and earth have become one again. This is what the mystery of ascension tells us.
Now the question is what way does this ascension of Jesus affect us? Quite often we think that heaven is above and we are here down below. Sometimes we also think that Jesus went upto heaven would mean that He is not with us anymore. No. All these are figurative language. In fact Bethel, House of God, is there wherever God is present. Moreover, Jesus has promised, “I am with you always, even till the end of age (Mt 28:20).” The Ascension of our Lord does mean to us, because we too can share in the power and glory of Jesus Christ. But, we fail to do so. Why? The episode of Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9) can answer to this question. At times we too make use of all possible means to make this this world a heaven, but without God, without being in the Grace of God. We use ladders of our own and not the ladder that Jesus provides to reach upto heaven.
I think we must take note of two things as the message of the day. First, no matter how hard we try on our own spending time and money, but without the grace of God we cannot achieve salvation. we cannot achieve justice, true peace and happiness. Secondly, without human effort (Hard WORK) relying only on the grace of God, we cannot achieve salvation. To achieve human salvation (Justice, peace and happiness) we need both Grace of God and Human effort. If we are baptized with Christ, if we obey his commandments and lead our lives according to the teachings and principles that He showed, we will definitely be part of his divine glory.
I pray that we may be able to die to self (our selfish self, our pride etc.) and have the mind of Jesus Christ in humility and obedience; and thus be true witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.