Posted May 13, 2021
Feast of Ascension 2021
The Feast of the Ascension is the final consequence of Christmas. At Christmas, Christ came among us to share with us his divinity. At Ascension, Christ returns to God, bearing our humanity.
When we speak of ‘our humanity’ in this context, we are not talking about an abstract idea. Jesus does not present to his Father an idea. If this were the case, you might imagine the Father saying to Jesus on Ascension Day: ‘What? You have been through all that, and you have nothing to show for it but an idea!’ Instead, Jesus says to the Father, to use that lovely phrase from the Epistle to the Hebrews: ‘Here am I, with the children you have given me.’ St Paul makes the same point when he describes the risen and ascended Christ as the ‘firstborn among many brothers and sisters’. Children, brothers, sisters are not abstractions. They are flesh and blood, warm breath, embraced and embracing; often sick and fearful, broken, dirty and forlorn. The humanity that Jesus presents to his Father is the very stuff you and I are made of. A beautiful prayer in the ancient Christmas liturgy, now taken up in the Post-Communion prayer of today’s feast, speaks of ‘the stuff we are made of’ being with God in Christ (in quo tecum est nostra substantia)’.
And let us not be discouraged by the fact that we are far from perfect. Our humanity is already with God in Christ. Ascension is already a fact, a fait accompli. With God there is no delayed action, no time lapse between now and then. Already at Ascension we are taken with Jesus into God’s inner life, just as we are, with all the circumstances and peculiarities that make me inimitably me, and you uniquely you. Jesus presents me to the Father with my good qualities and my human potential, but also with all my weakness and my sadness and my problems and my sins; my past, my present and my future, with all those aspects of my past, present and future that make me glad, and all those aspects of it that make me fearful or regretful and ashamed. Our sadness and our pains are in God’s hands, who will make of them something marvellous; our sins are there to be purified by God, our past to be regained and divinely reconstituted, our potential is all there, to be exploited to the full, as only God knows how. There is nothing of me and you that Jesus does not present to the Father to be mended, to be changed, to be approved, to be loved.
Does not the New Testament say that Jesus’ activity in heaven, after his Ascension, is one of intercession? Only the weak and the perplexed need an intercessor. And when the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of Jesus as our great High Priest, it means, surely, that on the one hand Jesus brings God to us, and on the other hand he brings our weakness to God. ‘For’, as the epistle says, ‘we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’
The Ascension has carried us up to heaven, with all our weaknesses and fears and sorrows and regrets. The Eucharist we are about to celebrate is Jesus’ Ascension and ours. Jesus enters the Father’s presence ‘with the children God has given him’, in an act of perfect worship, to achieve our perfect redemption. In Jesus let us bring to the Father the stuff we are made of, all that we have and all that we are, as in a joyful Offertory procession; so that through this wonderful exchange we may receive God’s very self.
Fr Tom Deidun