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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

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Jesus’ asked us to continue his work of healing, loving and proclaiming

Jesus’ asked us to continue his work of healing, loving and proclaiming

Jesus’ Ascension into heaven is part of our Profession of Faith. Some people have problems believing in Jesus’ Ascension, because the narrative assumes a three-storied universe: 1) A solid dome of heaven above the earth; 2) The flat earth; 3) The underworld often called Hades or Hell.

The Biblical authors could only describe reality as they understood the composition of their world. Before Galileo’s observations of the universe (he died in 1642), most educated people believed that the earth was the center of the universe and that all heavenly bodies revolved around the Earth. Our ancestors pictured heaven as “up” above the great super dome in the sky.

They pictured God’s throne above the Superdome looking down on earth. The sun, the moon, and the stars revolved around the top of this dome. Of course, we understand our universe in an entirely different way. So we have to “translate” what they were trying to tell us.

Heaven is not so much a place but another dimension, a different state of being. Heaven is being with God, seeing God face to face. We know that God is everywhere. When we get to heaven, we are not going to be confined to a place. We can discover God’s vast universe and talk to people whom we admired on earth.

So when did Jesus go to heaven? On Good Friday the person we call the Good Thief was hanging on a cross next to Jesus. His prayer was, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.” Jesus’ answer was, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

When Jesus died he went to heaven just like we would go to heaven if we died in the state of grace.

According to the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus continued to visit his followers after his Resurrection for about 40 days. Now 40 days does not mean exactly 40 days. It means “a long time.” It’s not a magical number. It’s used as a figure of speech to mean a long while.

Some examples: Noah was in the ark when it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. Jews were in the desert for 40 years. Elijah was escaping from Jezebel and walked 40 days and 40 nights to a safe cave. Jesus went into the desert before starting his public ministry for 40 days.

So what ultimately happened on the Mount of Olives on the day we call the Ascension? Jesus, after spending a long time with his disciples after his resurrection “speaking about the kingdom of God,” told his followers they would not see him again. When Jesus appeared with his incorruptible body, he strengthened and helped them put their lives together.

Before Jesus returned to the Father, he commissioned his followers to continue his work. Jesus told them that he was not going to leave them orphaned. He would send the Spirit to be with them and guide them in passing on the Good News of God’s love for us.

I want you to envision a relay race. The runners pass the baton from one person to another. Jesus now passes the baton to us. We have to continue his work of healing, loving and proclaiming the good news of God’s love. The Ascension is not about telling Jesus goodbye, but realizing that the ball is in our court. We have to continue Jesus’ work.

The Sacred writers used the image of a conquering General sitting at place of honor (the right hand) of the King. Jesus, who became a 100% human and identified with our human nature, has the “ear” of the king. He also has gone to prepare a place for us in his kingdom.

The church is Christ’s body called to behave as Jesus behaved – taking his love, his grace, and his mercy into our world. That’s the challenge of the Ascension.