We have a very unique faith. We sometimes forget all about this. There is none other which claims that its founder is God, who came down to earth, died for us, and then ascended back into heaven…back into the fullness of his glory. Where else do we find that?
It’s interesting to note what the God-Man, Jesus Christ, accomplished for us at his ascension. When with his disciples after the resurrection, Jesus tells them to not hold onto him because he is not yet ascended. This is an important point because the ascension is key to our life as followers of Christ. To some it is simply Jesus leaving us. But so much happens as a result of this most magnificent event that it makes one wonder at God’s power and glory. Let us unfold a few things that result from Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
We know that he is divine, and as such enthronement in heaven is his rightful place. John tells us in Rev. 5:6, “I saw a Lamb who appeared to have been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.” And Jesus tells us of himself in Rev. 1:17, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades.” His victory over sin and death is important for us because we can now enter heaven which before was closed off to us.
With his return to the side of the eternal Father, into the heart of the Holy Trinity, Jesus takes with himself the human body which he chose to humble himself into when he came into the world. An especially important point for us. At the miraculous conception of Jesus what is eternally divine came into what is human and mortal. This was the first time that humanity was infused with immortality since before the sin of Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden. We were meant to live forever from the very outset of our creation. By our own choice we lost that. Sin and death came into the picture. Jesus brought it back by descending into our human form. He gave this lowly human form of ours the victory over death it needed. And, at his ascension, took it with him into the fullness of Trinitarian life. Meaning…our humanity remains united with God’s divinity in heaven. And, it’s his plan that we share in this divine glory.
Jesus said in Jn. 17:22 “The glory that you have given me I have given them”. St. Peter tells us in 2 Pt. 1:4 “Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.” Jesus took part in our nature, so that we might be raised up to participate in his nature. Not that we somehow become God, but we will be glorified far beyond what is natural to humanity in its first creation.
Now, St. Peter also tells us in the following verses that, “For this very reason” we must make every effort to support our faith with goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, and godliness. And that anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind. This he says is because we must make the choice to transform our lives and prepare to take on the divine likeness here in this life. We also have the choice to not do so and reject the tremendous gift that is being offered us. Such is our dignity and likeness to God…that is our freedom to choose our eternal destiny.
So, if Jesus did not bodily ascend into heaven then our humanity would not be raised up to higher glory. But, because he did, we can share in divine nature.
I want to touch briefly on a promise Jesus made us before he ascended. He said in Mt. 28:20, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”. In saying this Jesus is not simply implying that he will be with us in some metaphysical or spiritual sense. He was speaking of the fact that he is with us in a new way. In a way through which he can be with us anywhere we are in the world…so that we would not have to flock to one place in order to meet him. St. Therese of Lisieux spoke of this when she said, “Do you realize that Jesus is there in the tabernacle expressly for you – for you alone? He burns with the desire to come into your heart”. He is physically here with us in each tabernacle around the world…whether we are in Canada, China, Africa, Russia, South America, or anywhere there are Catholic priests…Jesus is here, personally!
Now, he also gave us his Eucharistic presence for a very important purpose. St. Paul tells us of Jesus’ purpose in 2 Tim. 1:10, “This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began”, Who, ” brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” And what does Jesus say in the Gospel about immortality? Well, let’s look at Jn. 6:54- “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
Jesus gave us his Eucharistic presence so that as we consume what is divine, that is his Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist, we may be transformed, as St. Paul says in 2 Cor. 3:18, “From one degree of glory to another”, and be granted the immortality he meant for us to regain after the Fall.
Finally, I want to touch upon something St. John said at the close of his Gospel. “There are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” To this end, after his resurrection from the dead, on multiple occasions, Jesus took the time to open the minds of his disciples to the Scriptures. Meaning, that he took the time to explain to them all that was said of him in the Bible. This is important for us when thinking about the ascension because, the reality is, that what we have in the Bible needs unfolding in order to be applied to the circumstances and times we live in. As it has throughout all human history.
God’s Word is eternal and has wisdom for each age. But it takes time and grace from God to unfold and understand. For this reason, Jesus promised to send us the Holy Spirit when he ascended. He spoke of the H.S. multiple times in the NT, calling him the Advocate who would “teach you all things, and remind you of everything I have told you”…who will “testify about me”.
As you know, the Church has, over the course of two millennia, written much about God and his teaching. She does so while being faithful to the Gospels because she has received the Holy Spirit, who teaches her all things, as Jesus promised. He sent us the H.S. so that when we teach, we might truly do as Jesus commanded us in his Great Commission in Mt. 28. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
So, by his ascension into heaven Jesus ensured that we can come to share in the divine nature, raising our lowly humanity to tremendous glory. He also left us his Eucharistic presence that he might be with us everywhere we are, and that we might have eternal life by consuming his flesh and blood. And, finally, he sent down the Holy Spirit, who is to guide us into following him truly, so that we may not stray from that path leading to eternal bliss in the presence of the Holy Trinity.
To quote St. Peter in 1 Pt. 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Such is the generosity of our God! Praise and glory be to Him!