The Ascension was never my favorite Bible story, containing as it did all the elements of a monumental tragedy – at least as far as I was concerned. The poor, shell-shocked disciples of Christ, barely recovered from the horror of the Crucifixion, just beginning to exult in the reality that even death could not defeat their Lord, gullibly follow Jesus up the Mount of Olives, and He leaves them! How could He?? I know, I know – He mumbled something about having to leave so that He could send the “Comforter.” Paraclete, Schmaraclete! was my well-reasoned response. I want JESUS! The story was a triumph for Him – He got to go Home! I was stuck here….
No, I was not a big fan of the Ascension. It might have helped if I had known that the Ascension was actually all about: ME.
Question: Who is the light of the world? Little-known fact: I AM.
Hang on a minute – Jesus proclaimed in John 8:12 that HE was the Light of the World.
Absolutely correct. It is, however, also absolutely correct for me to insist that I am the light of the world, because Jesus said I was, in His Sermon on the Mount.
In fact, if you read the New Testament carefully, you’ll notice that an incredible number of “parallel” claims are made along those same lines. Jesus would explain to his disciples that He was something specific like the Light of the World, and later in Scripture we would be told that WE were (or were to become) that very same thing. A few examples:
- Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. Jn 3:16
“For you are all sons of God
through faith in Christ Jesus.” Gal 3:26
- Jesus has been appointed “the heir of all things.” Heb 1:2
“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…” Rom 8:16
- Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” Col 1:15
“For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Rom 8:29
- Jesus is “the radiance of [the Father’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature….” Heb 1:3
“For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature” 2 Pet 1:4
- Jesus is “the apostle and high priest whom we confess.” Heb 3:1
“But you are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own….” 1 Pet 2:9
- Jesus is the “one mediator between God and men” 1 Tim 2:5
“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority….” 1 Tim 2:1
- Jesus was “crucified in weakness, yet He lives by God’s power.” 2 Cor 13:4
“Likewise, we are weak in Him, yet by God’s power we will live with Him
to serve you.” 2 Cor 13:4
- Jesus is seated “at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Heb 1:3
“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms
in Christ Jesus….” Eph 2:6
We are called to be what Jesus is, to imitate Him in all things (except in His divine Essence – we will not become God, but we are commanded to become god-ly.) Jesus was very God of very God, but He did not spend His earthly existence sitting around marveling at this fact. Jesus “went about doing good.” This means, obviously, that we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. One small problem… We are unable to do anything of ourselves!
“Apart from Me you can do nothing.” Jn 15:5
Make that one BIG problem – Jesus just ascended to the Father, and He didn’t take us with Him! And so much is expected of us, as the “parallel” statements make abundantly clear!
- Jesus was sent: “I am not here on my own, but He who sent me is true. Jn 7:28
“As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.” Jn 17:18
- Jesus became “a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth….” Rom 15:8
“Your attitude should be the same
as that of Christ Jesus, Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant….” Phil 2:5
- Jesus said, “The Father who dwells in me is doing His works.” Jn 14:9
“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Eph 2:10
- Jesus was “a Man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs.” Acts 2:22
“…he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these
he will do.” (Jn 14:12)
- The Father gave Jesus “authority over all people” Jn 17:3, to “reign forever and ever” Rev 11:5
“… if we endure, we will also reign with Him.” 2 Tim 2:12
- Jesus is “the one whom God appointed as the judge of the living and the dead.” Acts 10:42
“Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?… Do you not know that we will judge angels?” I Cor 6:2-3
- Jesus “gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” Eph 5:2
“… offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” Rom 12:1
- Jesus is “the Holy One of God.” Mk 1:24
“like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves
also in all your behavior” 1 Pet 1:15
- Jesus said, “I love the Father” Jn 14:31 , and “As the Father loves me, so I also love you” Jn 15: 12
“Love one another, even as I have loved you.” Jn 13:34
The Ascension looked to me like a recipe for disaster! So much is expected of us, yet we are simultaneously informed that without the One Who just ascended, we can do nothing! Not only does He leave us, but He insists that He MUST leave us, so that we can receive “the Comforter.”
It’s all starting to fall into place…. We aren’t the only ones who can do nothing of ourselves – Jesus said the very same thing about Himself:
…the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing….
There’s a plenty good reason that we can do nothing of ourselves. Even the second Person of the Trinity could do nothing of Himself! That’s why He makes it clear to us that the Father loves Him, and He loves the Father. The Bible tells us that God is Love – God the Father is Love, God the Son is Love, God the Holy Spirit is Love. You and I are not, obviously, but we have to be in order to enter into this progressive endowment of responsibilities and the resulting ability to fulfill those responsibilities. Love is what makes it possible for us to participate in the life of God. And therefore, the Comforter was sent to fill us, the Comforter Who is the Love between the Father and the Son, so real that He is actually a Person of the Holy Trinity. If we are expected to live the life of Christ in this world, we must be filled with the same Love He is filled with, and with the power of this divine Love. Thus, of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. We are made partakers of the divine nature. Each Christian becomes a part of this divine bucket brigade, as God’s love pours out from the Father, to the Son, to us and through us to our neighbor.
Note the divine progression of Love flowing from the Father, to the Son, to the disciples, to the world. As Jesus receives from the Father, so He also gives to us, but not so that we can sit around marveling at how privileged we are. As Jesus went about doing good, so must we. As He gives to us, we are to offer to others: love, forgiveness, prayers, assistance, forbearance, mercy. We who have received from Jesus what He received from the Father are now commissioned to react as Jesus reacted to those gifts: by laying down our lives and taking up the work the Father has prepared for us. When Scripture defines who the Christian is, and what his mission is now that he has been born again, it simply points us back to Jesus’ nature and mission, because that says it all. We were loved so much that God gave His only begotten Son to save us, so that we could lay down our lives and save others (and yes, it is legitimate to say that we play a limited, supporting role in the salvation of others, as St. Paul said, “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.”) Jesus left us so that we might experience His life more fully, or as St. Paul put it “that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” St. Maximus the Confessor probably expressed it best: we are called to nothing less than total participation in Christ. We, the members of the body of Christ, are literally co-workers with God (1 Cor 3:9) and partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4). As members of His actual body, how could we not be? Pope Pius XII expressed the concept in these words:
“As He hung upon the Cross, Christ Jesus not only appeased the justice of the Eternal Father which had been violated, but He also won for us, His brethren, an ineffable flow of graces. It was possible for Him of Himself to impart these graces to mankind directly; but He willed to do so only through a visible Church made up of men, so that through her all might cooperate with Him in dispensing the graces of Redemption. As the Word of God willed to make use of our nature, when in excruciating agony He would redeem mankind, so in the same way throughout the centuries He makes use of the Church that the work begun might endure.”
“…so in the same way throughout the centuries He makes use of the Church that the work begun might endure” – this is the Catholic understanding of the mystery of the Incarnation, that Jesus became Man so that men might become members of Jesus’ very body. Jesus did the will of His Father, and now intercedes for us that we might do exactly the same thing, following in His footsteps, by exactly the same Power that He relied on, the Holy Spirit Who is Love. The Ascension is a textbook illustration of the way God demands something impossible of us only to show us our need, and then steps in to do what needs to be done through us. Over the next 10 days we will see this in the story of Pentecost, as the apostles pray with the Blessed Virgin for 9 days before receiving the power necessary,the Holy Spirit, to fulfill the Great Commission Jesus gave them at His Ascension.
The Ascension was a key event in the divine plan. Our Elder Brother has been glorified, and is now praying for us as we, filled with the Holy Spirit, do the works that God has prepared for us to do. This is the reason we were created. We will be just like Him one day, to the glory of God the Father.
Practice starts now.
On the feast of the Ascension of the Lord
Deo omnis gloria!