THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD YEAR A ON MAY 24, 2020 (R. 1: Acts 1: 1- 11; Psalm 47: 2- 3, 6- 9; R. 2: Ephesians 1: 17- 23; Gospel: Matthew 28: 16- 20)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
I WILL BE WITH YOU ALWAYS!
A man had one son and one horse. One morning, the horse escaped into the forest. His neighbors came around and said to him, “Bad luck!” The man responded, “But how can you be so sure?” The next morning, the horse returned, leading back ten wild horses. The man’s neighbors came around and said, “Good luck!” and the man responded, “But how can you be so sure?” The next morning, the man’s son was thrown down, and he broke his leg while trying to tame one of the wild horses. The man’s neighbors came and said, “Bad luck!” He responded, “But how can you be so sure?” The next day, an enemy invaded the village and carried off all the able-bodied young men. The man’s injured son was left behind.
This story is that of tragedy turned into a blessing. In the same way, the story of Easter is also the story of tragedy turned into a blessing. The story of Easter is the story of one who was hated, killed, and buried. When they buried him, they did not know it was a seed they buried; this seed eventually germinated, and it keeps yielding fruits to this day.
Today, we celebrate the sixth of the twelve articles of the Catholic Faith. The twelve articles are contained in the Apostles’ Creed. The sixth article is, “He (Jesus Christ) ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” The Ascension comes ten days before Pentecost. It was celebrated last Thursday in most parts of the world, but for pastoral reasons, in this part of the world, we celebrate it this Sunday. My classmate and friend, Fr. Ernest Mawah, called me on the phone from Nigeria last Thursday to wish me “Happy Ascension.” I told him to reserve the greeting for today. He wondered why we did not celebrate the Ascension last Thursday, I then responded, “The point is that in this part of the world, we are very nice to Jesus, so Jesus is taking his time and not in a rush to go back to heaven” (I hope you know it is a joke).
At first glance, the Ascension seems like a sad event. Christ, in his human body, is leaving the world. Ordinarily, we do not rejoice when someone that we love and admire leaves us. But the liturgy shows clearly that this is a joyful feast. Why do we celebrate the departure of Jesus with such excitement and rejoicing? It is because the Ascension is the fulfillment of the salvific mission of Christ. The Ascension is the final leg of the paschal mystery: the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven. The act of redemption carried out by Christ was only completed when he ascended and returned to his Father.
The Ascension reminds us that after the union of the human and the divine natures of Christ at the incarnation, they never separated. It means that Christ did not dump his human nature after his saving death and resurrection, just as he did not drop his divine nature at the incarnation.
The ascension of Jesus bears two important fruits, which are the two advents. The first advent is the coming of the Holy Spirit, while the Second Advent is the expected Second Coming of Christ. Before his ascension, Christ said to his apostles, “It is important that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come; if I go, I will send him to you.” After his ascension, two angels appeared to his disciples to tell them that just as they saw him ascending to heaven, so he will come again at the end of the age.” He will come back no longer as Savior, but as Judge and Lord of all.
On Good Friday, it seemed as if evil had won forever, but it was not long, on Easter Sunday, Jesus rose from the grave. On the day of Ascension, it was sad for the disciples, but it was not long, it all turned out for good. If Christ had remained physically on earth, sight would have taken the place of faith. In heaven, there will be no need for faith because His followers will see God as He truly is; there will be no need for hope because they will possess, but there will be a need for love because love endures forever. In the incarnation, Christ took human nature to suffer and redeem it. In the Ascension, he went up with the same body to exalt that body that was humbled in death. Through the ascension, Christ now pleads for us in heaven with the human nature common to the rest of us. He has to be one like us to be our ambassador.
My dearly beloved in Christ, each of us is a book, and God is the author. When you pick up an interesting book to read, sometimes you come across chapters that make no sense to you, chapters that might be depressing. But if you persist and you read to the end of the book, you arrive at that “aha!” moment when you suddenly realize why those earlier chapters were written the way you encountered them. I am not sure of the chapter you are in your life today. If things are rosy, remember that it is not yet over; and if things are bitter, remember that the author (God) is still writing. Jesus promised us in today’s Gospel passage that he will be with us until the end of the age. At moments of temptation, he reminds us that he has been there; when we lack basic needs, he reminds us that even at his birth, there was no room for him in the Inn; when we are betrayed and falsely accused by close friends and family, he reminds us that he was betrayed by a kiss from a trusted friend and that some of his family members thought that he was out of his mind. Not even death can separate us from him, for he went into death and conquered for us. Let no single aspect of your life keep you down, and bear in mind that “All things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28). As Jesus ascends into heaven, may he take our prayers to his Father, and may the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost bring answers to our prayers, through Christ our Lord. Amen.