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The Ascension of the Lord
May 21, 2023

Watch this homily! (Begins at 38:50)

     The readings for this feast of the Ascension involve some fairly intensive spiritual acrobatics or calisthenics. They get us looking in several different directions - up, in, and out – all at the same time. A balancing act for sure! But our life of faith is like that, isn’t it? It’s seldom, if ever, just one thing at a time.

     The “looking up” part is clear enough. With the disciples of Jesus on the top of the Mount of Olives, our eyes today are firmly – if figuratively - fixed on the heavens where Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father. His ascension gives the finishing touch to his triumph over the power of death. It is ‘mission accomplished’ for Jesus.

     The mission had begun when he embraced our human condition by becoming one of us, making our weaknesses his own, walking in our footsteps, traveling our roads, experiencing our pains, feeling our fears, embracing our limitations even to the point of coming face-to-face with our ultimate enemy, death itself.  And just when death had seemed to get the last word, his Father had spoken an even more powerful word. And when God spoke that word, death was defeated - it gave up its grip on the lifeless body of Jesus as he burst forth from the tomb radiant with new life, and returned to his Father where he intercedes for all of us.

     Ascension is about looking up, then: looking up to heaven where Christ is gloriously triumphant, our hope and our joy.

     But looking up to heaven is not enough. There is work to be done right here. As someone once put it, ‘we can’t afford to be so heavenly minded as to be no earthly good!’ And that’s where looking inward and looking outward come in.

     First, looking inward. St. Augustine, in a homily for this feast, had this lovely way of putting it: “Christ ascended before the apostles’ eyes, and they turned back grieving, only to find him in their hearts.” The reading from the Letter to the Ephesians spoke of looking with “the eyes of our hearts” (a beautiful expression!) - coming to see the Christ who dwells within us by faith, awakening to the wonders of grace God is working within us right now. The eyes of the heart are able, in times of pain and darkness and grief, to see the hand of a mysterious but loving God at work. The eyes of the heart can make sense out of life’s deepest, most perplexing mysteries. That’s why we look inward.

     Lastly, the Ascension makes us look outward. We are not only to meet the Christ who dwells within, we are also to take that same Christ out into the world where we live. “Go, make disciples of all nations,” we heard Jesus tell his disciples in today’s passage from Matthew’s gospel. He says the same to us. We don’t get the luxury of standing still gazing at the heavens any more than the disciples did on top of the Mount of Olives. There is work to do, a world to encounter, a gospel to preach, and we are the preachers. We are the preachers.

     And then, the ascension reminds us that we who follow Christ are called not only to look outwards but to go outwards: to leave our comfort zone and plant the seeds of the gospel in the soil of this world - soil that is not very receptive to the gospel or, at best, quite indifferent to it. We are called as Church to go to places where we are not very welcome and to proclaim good news that doesn’t always sound all that good – certainly not to people who seem to have lost interest in the transcendent, and whose eyes tend to be mostly for the here and now.

     My friends in Christ, the Ascension of Christ calls us to embrace the gospel of Jesus so completely that we will actually become a gospel, a gospel that people want to read. We are to love one another so convincingly – especially the poor, the forgotten, the unattractive – that people will see that we really are different and that something new is afoot.

     Dear friends, the Ascension does involve us in quite a balancing act. We are at one and the same time to live on a heavenly plane and to slug it out on an earthly plane. That’s the calling of a follower of Christ – not an easy one, to be sure, and never a dull one – but an immensely rewarding one. And, yes, the acrobatics I spoke about earlier do demand some serious, ongoing, intensive training. Happily, there is a fitness program for it. There is. It’s called the Eucharist!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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Seattle, Washington  98104
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