HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD YEAR C
THEME: Ascension: Christ’s Exaltation and Enthronement
BY: Fr. Anthony O. Ezeaputa, MA.
HOMILY FOR SUNDAY MAY 29 2022
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger once observed that “Of all the major feasts of the liturgical year, none perhaps is more alien to the modern mind than the feast of Christ’s Ascension.” Cardinal Ratzinger continues, “It seems too closely bound up with a mythical vision of the world that we have long since been unable to share.” As a result, many Christians today find themselves asking: “What is the meaning of the phrases in the creed, such as “descended into hell,” “ascended into heaven” and “sitting at the right hand of God?”
Obviously, I find it hard to believe that there is someone who is old enough to think for himself who will suppose that God lives in a local heaven. Heaven is not a place that is above us in the traditional sense of the word. Hell, on the other hand, is not a mythical underworld beneath our feet.
If there is no heaven localized above the clouds, then what then is the meaning of Christ’s ascension into heaven, which we celebrate today? What is the real meaning of today’s solemnity that the liturgy speaks of as “the Lord’s going up” or “being exalted,” which we call “the ascension of Christ into heaven”?
When we go back beyond the New Testament, we will realize that the terms “raise up” or “exalt” originate in the Old Testament, where they refer to enthronement. The accounts of the enthronements of Solomon (1 Kings 1:32–40), for instance, offer us some insights into the meaning of ascension. The king is first elevated to divine status through anointings and pronouncements; then he is chosen by God Himself and presented to the people; and finally, the new king is enthroned and given kingly power.
The anointing of the king was the most essential part of the enthronement ceremony. After the anointing of the new king, trumpets are blown, and the people shout, “Long live King Solomon!” A joyful procession then accompanied the king from the holy place to his new throne, where he took his place and received the obeisance of his people (v. 40).
To understand the Israelite enthronement ceremony is to have an initial answer to our question about the meaning of “ascension into heaven”. Today, the Church celebrates the feast of Christ’s exaltation and enthronement. The Ascension of Christ tells us that the crucified man Jesus now exercises God’s kingship over the world.
Furthermore, our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (1:1-11) describes what happens in the “ascension into heaven” by passive verbs. It says that Jesus is “lifted up” (v. 9) and later it adds, that he is “taken up” (v. 11). In other words, ascension is a mighty act of God, who brings Jesus to himself after his earthly mission.
Additionally, the image of the cloud seems to indicate an aerial journey into the sky, but it is an ancient image from Old Testament cultic theology, which is a sign of the hiddenness of God. The cloud represents God, who, in his very hiddenness, is close to us and exercises his power for us. God, who is always beyond our reach yet always in our midst. God, who eludes our every attempt to lay hold of him and manipulate him, but by that very fact, exercises a providential rule over us all.
The Lord present in the hiddenness of the cloud, the image that is at the center of today’s reading, is thus saying the same thing, in the last analysis, as the metaphorical language of “sitting at the right hand of the Father,” which is an image of his power and glory. Sitting at the Father’s right hand means, therefore, that even in his human nature, Christ shares in God’s world-encompassing power.
Christ’s “ascension into heaven is then an expression of our belief that in Christ, human nature, which we all share, has entered into the inner life of God in a new and unheard-of way. It means that we have found an everlasting place in God. Heaven is not a place beyond the stars. Heaven means that man now has a place in God.
At the same time, Christ, the man who is in God and eternally one with God, is at the same time God’s abiding openness to all men. Thus, Jesus himself is what we call “heaven”; heaven is a person, the person of him in whom God and man are forever and inseparably one. And we go to heaven and enter into heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and enter into him. In this sense, “ascension into heaven” can be something that happens in our everyday lives.
For the disciples, then, the “ascension” was not what we usually misinterpret it as being: the temporary absence of Christ from the world. It meant, rather, his new, definitive, and irrevocable presence by participation in God’s royal power. Happy Ascension!