It all began one silent night some 33 years before. The inconspicuous birth of a baby boy sleeping in a feeding trough, witnessed by only an eclectic handful of shepherds and wise men. The story ended pretty much the same way it began with a handful of eclectic disciples watching him vanish before their very eyes. We never knew what he did for most of his life on earth but the last three years of his life changed everything and would leave those who loved him standing stunned and astonished looking up at the sky.
We too gaze up into the heavens longing to live ascended lives. To break free of everything that keeps us down or holds us back. In the world we live in today, being up is better than being down. Athletes want to be at the top of their game, singers want to be at the top of the charts, and students want to be at the top of their class. We all would rather have an up day than a down one. We cheer when the market goes up and worry ourselves sick when it goes down and crashes. And of course no one wants to be at the bottom of anyone’s list.
While the reality of our lives is that our feet are planted firmly on the ground, there is still something inside all of us that knows we are more than our earthbound human bodies. The problem is that in our desire to live ascended lives we usually do it at the expense of another’s descending. It typically involves comparison, competition, and judgement of some kind. We somehow can’t resist comparing ourselves and our lives with others. We find ourselves competing for more attention, for more control, for more affirmation and respect. It’s easy to let our lives get so filled with the busyness of climbing to new heights and searching for the next highs, that our world becomes fragmented and shattered, separating ourselves from the intimacy and love of our Creator. It ultimately becomes the very weight that keeps us bogged down, unable to recognize and live the true reality of our ascended lives. We forget that the reality of Christ’s ascension places our very own humanity next to the divine face of God.
If Jesus’ ascension was only about his absence, then I’m sure the disciples would have experienced some significant abandonment issues. But the ascension was not about location and absence, it was about presence, fullness, and relationship. The resurrection was about triumph over death. The ascension was about raising humanity to heaven. The ascension puts human flesh, yours and mine, at the right hand of God along with Jesus. No wonder the angles mystified and ask the disciples, “Why do you stand looking up to heaven?”
The question for us is not, “how do we ascend?” Jesus already did that for us. The question is what is the gravity that pulls us down? What is it that we need to let go of, to stop clinging to, so we can experience the joy of ascension? Fear, anger, or resentment? The need to be right or in control? Indifference or apathy? The gravity that keeps bringing us down and prevents us from sharing in the joy of our ascended lives is not the world or the circumstances of our lives. It is not what is around us, it is what’s within us. The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord is not the time to simply stand around gazing up to heaven. Look within and let go of all our personal gravity and whatever holds us back from recognizing with joy, that Inside each of us lives the risen and ascended Lord.
s/t to Michael Marsh