In the Collect or Opening Prayer of today’s Mass, the Church asks the Father, “make us rejoice with devout thanksgiving, for the Ascension of Christ your Son is our exaltation.” During the days of Easter and the Easter Season, most of our focus is on the great feasts of Easter and Pentecost. And rightfully so. At the same time, however, we can miss the beautiful gift God gives in the feast of the Ascension of the Lord. How is Christ’s Ascension “our exaltation?” When I think of the Ascension, I can think of it from a most human perspective. It is as if the Lord came to our world to do a job, to redeem and save humanity. He left our world, his Ascension, when the job was finished. In addition, I can think of the Ascension as the Lord’s moment of freedom from us, of no longer having to be with sinful and unfaithful humanity. Not much “to see here,” not much to celebrate. This understanding of the Ascension, however, is utterly incomplete, it is completely wrong. In an address from 2012, Pope Benedict said of the Ascension: “In his humanity, he took man with him into the intimacy of the Father.” In other words, within the very life of God is now glorified humanity.
My incomplete understanding of the Ascension leaves little possibility that this feast involves “our exaltation.” It rather cannot but connote a sense of God wanting to maintain his distance from us. But the words of Pope Benedict make clear that the truth is the opposite. God is perfect and lacks nothing. Yet, with the Ascension, the Risen Lord brings to the Father and the inner life of God, our humanity which he assumed when he was “born of the Virgin Mary.” It is not enough for God that we be redeemed and saved only. Human salvation freely given by God is not merely about our righteousness. It is also about God’s incomprehensible love for us. Be it the gift of Easter and the possibility of eternal life, of being with God face to face. Or, of Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit, of God dwelling within us. Or, of the Ascension of the Risen Lord to the Father, of glorified humanity dwelling within the very life of God. With these we are able to see an almost disconcerting truth – God has done all this for us. In addition, I think we are also able to glimpse God’s desire. It seems inescapable not to conclude that the desire of God is to have us with him, that is, God wants his children to be near him, to be with him always. God wants us close to him, not far. He sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts and brings Resurrected humanity to dwell in his heart. We now live within the “intimacy of the Father.” It is difficult for us to accept, let alone receive, how much we are loved by God. It may be incomprehensible to us, but with the Ascension of the Lord, it is also an inescapable Divine truth. And so this Sunday is indeed a day of great devotion and rejoicing, “for the Ascension of Christ your Son is our exaltation.”
God Bless and Take Care.