This Thursday (Sunday in some places) we celebrate the solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. Jesus returns to his Father after accomplishing his mission on earth. It’s not that Jesus will be absent but rather he will continue to be present among his disciples, and indeed in the world, but in a different form. No longer limited by his body, the risen Lord will be present in the world in the universal way, especially by the action of the Holy Spirit that he will send.
Bible Reading Acts 1:1-11 Psalm 47: 2-3, 6-9 Ephesians 1: 17-23 Matthew 28: 16-20
Why the joy of ascension?
Jesus ascends to heaven as God-made flesh. Through him a human being takes his place in heaven, sharing the same abode with God. That has been God’s plan since creation that human beings live in friendship and share life with him. And that’s the idea behind creating human beings and putting them in the Garden of Eden, which is an abode of gods. So here, we have the idea of the God of Israel who already had this intention of sharing life with humanity.
And so the sin of human of beings is actually the act of distancing themselves from God and refusing his friendship. By their disobedience, they cut themselves from God. Nevertheless, God does not leave human beings to remain alienated. The work of salvation we can understand it, therefore, as God taking the initiative to get human beings come back home. That’s why with the Ascension, when Jesus accomplishes his mission, he does not return to the Father alone. The doors of heaven are thrown open in order to welcome the entire humanity. Of course, Jesus precedes us, showing us the way. That’s the meaning of our joy.
We are meant to go up!
The Ascension reveals the glorious face of Jesus of Nazareth. The baby born in the stable, a young man who worked as carpenter in Nazareth, this itinerant preacher who walked the paths of Palestine, condemned to shameful death on the cross –he’s actually the son of God. His lowly earthly life and the humiliation that he suffered took nothing away from what he actually was. That can inspire us.
We may have known low moments in life, moments when we hit the bottom and wonder if we will ever find our way up. By Ascension Jesus gives us another way of looking at ourselves. That is, despite what’s going on in my life today I remain a son, a daughter, of the Father, meant to fly high. Indeed, I may know low moments in my life yet I’m not condemned to remain forever at the bottom of the pit.
Ascension: end and beginning
Hence we can say Jesus came to reorient our eyes, from looking down with despair to looking up with hope. However, that does not mean living passively. On the contrary, it means committing myself to manifest the Kingdom of God in my surrounding. That’s why the Ascension is an end but also a beginning. It’s the end of Jesus’s physical earthly life, and yet, it’s the beginning of the mission of the disciples, or the church, called to accompany humanity on the road towards the glory of heaven. That’s why Jean Lebruynne, a French priest, says: “The Christian is on his way. It’s not someone already arrived; The Christian is on a building site; He is a man of action, therefore a man hope.”
By the Ascension Jesus reveals the vocation of the human person: called to share in God’s life. That is God’s plan of love for humanity. Our role is to discover this bountiful love of God so that we can live fully in the hope of our calling. And that’s the meaning of the prayer we find in the letter to the Ephesians: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people” (Ephesians 1:18).
In conclusion, I just leave you with the story of an eagle –I don’t know the author. The story may help us to be more aware of who we are and the hope of our calling.
The eagle who lived as a chicken
One day a young eagle fell off the nest and was picked up by a farmer. The farmer was kind enough to bring the small bird to his barnyard so that it doesn’t perish. The young eagle found a good home with the chicken and grew up believing he is a chicken. He waited for the farmer to bring food, he quacked when a chicken laid an egg, and he enjoyed running around and sitting in a hole in the ground on sunny days. Life was good and comfortable, and the eagle’s wildest adventure was to run under the fence with his friends to that cliff where they looked at the mountains and wondered what lied on their other side.
One day he was with his fellow chicken picking seeds off the ground when a shadow covered the sky above him. He lifted his gaze and was mesmerized by the sight of a beautiful eagle cruising the sky. Unlike other chicken that he saw trying to fly, this eagle didn’t seem to be making much effort. With his wings spread wide, he was flying smoothly and changing his direction with the slightest gesture. “Wow. Look at that!”, yelled the young eagle to his friends. “Who is that?”, he asked. “That’s an eagle”, replied a chicken. “He’s the king of the sky. But we belong here on earth. We are chicken.”, she continued. And the eagle staring at the bird disappearing in the horizon as if it was gliding on an invisible path that only he could see.
Days later, the old eagle was flying again over the barnyard and was stunned by the sight of an eagle running around with the chicken. He surged down to the ground. As the other birds saw him they ran back to hide in the house. He descended in front of the other eagle before he reached the door.
“What are you doing?”, asked the old eagle.
“What do you mean?”, answered the young one.
“What are you doing running around with chicken?”.
“I am a chicken. These are my brothers and sisters. I grew up with them.”
“No you’re not. You’re an eagle. You belong in the sky, not on the ground.”
“No I am not. I am one of them. All I know is to do as they do, and to eat what they eat. I can’t even fly.”
“You can’t because you never tried. But you’re an eagle, just like me”.
“Even if what you say is true, I’ve lived all my life as a chicken. I am not an eagle anymore”.”
“It’s the heart of an eagle that matters, not the way he lived or ate… Come with me”
The eagle took another look at his friends hiding in the comfort of home. “Don’t listen to him!”, yelled one of the chicken. “He is tricking you”,” said another. “ If you go with him, you will die!”. “ Come back and be with us”…
But deep inside the eagle’s heart, a faint voice told him what he needed to do. He took one more gaze at the barnyard where he spend all his life playing with his friends, then turned around and followed the older eagle.
A moment later, they arrived at the cliff he used to visit sometimes with his friends. They stood next to each other on the edge looking at the mountains in the distance. Without a second of hesitation, the old eagle jumped off the edge, spread his wings and soared upward.
The young eagle looked down the cliff and trembled. He’d never flown before. May be he would die. May be he should go back.
“Don’t look down.” the old eagle said “Look up at the sky. Aim toward the sun. Give it a bit of faith.”
The young eagle lifted his sight up, spread his wings and leaped…
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