Why Was the Ascencion Necessary?
Homily for the Ascension, Sunday of the 7th week of Easter, Cycle A Given at St. Jude May 20 - 21, 2023
By Deacon Ken Steponaitis
Ascension Day is normally celebrated 40 days after easter which always puts it on a Thursday. But for most of the Dioceses in the United States, the celebration is pushed to the Seventh Sunday of Easter. I can’t help but believe the reason the Church does that is because this holy day of obligation could be more easily celebrated on Sunday, knowing how important this day truly is.
One of the issues I think we have with this day is seeing its significance. So, I would like to try out an analogy with you today that I hope will help you better understand why this historical event in the life of the Church had to take place.
I want you to imagine that you work for a large company. And when you were hired on, you were assigned a direct supervisor who became your mentor. Imagine that this mentor is a bit older, has great wisdom and is well respected within the company. I want to you give this mentor a name. The name can be whatever you choose. I was thinking Jesus, but that didn’t seem right. So, for me my mentor’s name is Christopher.
From the first day of your arrival at the new job, Christopher showed you many of the things you needed to know about your job. Of course, Christopher could not possibly teach you every nuance of your job, but it seemed as though Christopher could answer most any question. He was very knowledgeable, and not just about the work you were assigned to accomplish, but about every aspect of the company. And although Christopher was your direct supervisor and mentor, He became a great friend. So much so, you even spent time with each other when not at work and with each other’s family.
One day Christopher tells you that he must go. He will no longer be your direct supervisor. Christopher tells you he will be moving to the corporate office in another city across the country. He tells you he has taught you all you need to know to carry on, not only your work but he tells you that you too will be promoted. Christopher has been appointed to become the president of operations and he will report directly to the CEO of the company. You will take his job.
As the time draws nearer to the time he must go to his new job, he constantly reassures you that although not physically present, he is just a call or email away. And at some point, down the road, he will come and visit and maybe by that time maybe you will be ready to move up the corporate office with him.
Further, he is going to assign you a new supervisor who Christopher says knows as much as he does about the job. Her name is Holly Sprite. Holly will come to you in about 10 days after he leaves. Holly will be able to aid you in your new job and teach you even more that Christopher cannot teach now. And while you are sad that your good friend must leave, you are also so happy for him in his new role.
When the day finally arrives, that Christopher has to leave, you watch him as he gets into a cab heading for the airport and maybe with a few tears in your eyes, but a joyful heart, the car pulls away and you stand there on the street as he disappears around the corner.
Our faith has so many mysteries. And it seems to me the ascension is one of those mysterious events that has so many purposes that are themselves mysteries.
So, let’s go through some of reasons Jesus had to ascend, and maybe we can relate the story of you and Christopher to this event.
1. Maybe you have seen paintings of the ascension and even our first reading describes this … Jesus floating up and disappearing into the sky while his apostles looked on. After all, that’s what’s described in our first reading from Acts. But if we think about this in a deeper way, imagine that, although Jesus’ resurrected body left us, I want you to consider that Jesus’ ascension had to be more than his body floating up to the sky.
The supervisor I described to you earlier also ascended. Not so much in a physical way, but like anyone who would ascend the corporate ladder. He ascended in stature. For Jesus, there was an ascension, but the ascension has to be more than a physical ascending, although that might have been part of it. I see it more as an ascension to some higher state of being. That Jesus’ humanity rose up in stature. That Jesus’ humanity took on a form of moving from space and time into a state of timelessness and space-lessness (if that’s word); a state that put Jesus into a position of being able to be any place and any time. Jesus’ humanity entered into a place of eternity.
2. According to our second reading from St. Paul to the Ephesians, the “Father raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavens.” So, Jesus, fully human and fully divine, with the Father, is able to take His exalted place at the right hand to intercede for us. Jesus was in a position now where He could connect humanity to heaven and in a way connect heaven to humanity.
I know this sounds a bit esoteric. But our Mass is exactly what I am describing to you. Imagine that at every Mass, as the priest offers up the bread and wine on the altar, simultaneously Jesus is doing the same. And through the power of the Holy Spirit given the priest, the bread and wine become Jesus’ body and blood for us here on earth. Heaven and earth are connected. What was once a separation because of the fall of Adam and Eve is now restored. The Gates of heaven have opened up.
It’s not unlike how Christopher ascending to his new position as president of operations goes to the corporate office and gives you a personal connection to the CEO and all the resources of the corporate office.
3. What’s even better, is because of that connection between heaven and earth, and because Jesus leads the way and draws us to himself, Jesus has the power to offer us a place in heaven when our work here is complete. According to the Gospel of John, Chapter 13:2-3, Jesus told his disciples “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”
Remember again our story. Christopher told you something similar. He said he would come back and visit and maybe you will be ready to work at the corporate office in a new role.
4. The last thing I want to relate to you regarding the ascension is that Jesus did not abandon us. I look at it as more of a stepping up so that we, humanity, could more intimately be involved in the work of the Father. That our stature too is raised up. Remember what Jesus said at the end of his discourse before ascending, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Jesus is commissioning us and his priests and bishops to be his body, the body of Christ, here on earth. That to draw people to the Father, through Jesus, we must cooperate in that work by being Jesus to the world.
Getting back to Christopher and our story … what if Christopher never left. He stayed continuing to mentor you, do the work that you would have done if he left. At some point your growth starts to slow down and get stagnant. By Christopher moving up and allowing you to move up in your stature, you have now been given an opportunity to grow.
By making disciples we grow towards the perfection necessary to enter into the glory of the Kingdom; by being of service to others, teaching others our faith and even bearing crosses.
And remember, Jesus didn’t leave us alone to do the work. In 10 days after the ascension, we will celebrate that new mentor Jesus called the advocate. We know Him as the Holy Spirit. But we’ll talk about that, next week.
What is most exciting to me and the thing that touches me most is that God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, not to condemn us, but to reunite us with Him. The ascension of Jesus accomplished Jesus’ mission. And maybe Jesus was not the Messiah that we expected. For example, Jesus did not come to do away with evil and sin. He did not come to obliterate the enemy. Rather, Jesus came to do something that made evil and sin powerless and allowed for us to rise in stature. While still a mystery, this kind of redemption turns out to be far better than just wiping out the devil and handing us all our earthly desires. Jesus brought us an understanding of unbridled love. A love that is so certain and so strong that even our sins cannot destroy it. Jesus connected us back to the Father in a way that we no longer need to look up to heaven to find. We simply need to look within us, to the Spirit of love within us that permeates out into the Church, connecting us as a community, and as Church we can extend that love out to the world in the hopes that whoever sees this magnificent love are so enamored and so drawn by that love, they too enter into the glory of the Kingdom.