[If I could preach on the Solemnity of the Ascension, I would say this…]
Jesus ascended into heaven. [Spanish]
But wasn’t He always in heaven with God? Don’t we say: God from God, light from light, true God from true God. Eternal with the Father. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen?
Yes. But what about the earthly pilgrimage of the Lord Jesus? His human pilgrimage?
When did His earthly pilgrimage begin? Same place all human life begins—the mother’s womb. But, whereas our earthly pilgrimages end with… correct: death, Jesus’ earthly pilgrimage did not end with death.
A lot of people thought it had ended with His death. Usually when condemned men died on crosses in the occupied territories of the Roman Empire, that spelled the end of that particular person’s earthly pilgrimage. When Jesus gave up His spirit and bowed His Sacred Head in death—it seemed to all observers that a human pilgrimage had ended.
But in this case, it had not. By no means. He rose from the dead on the third day, Easter Sunday morning. And He spent another forty days as a human pilgrim on earth. Walking, eating, talking, etc., like we do. Except that now He could not die. Because in His human flesh, He had already overcome the power of death.
Jesus’ resurrection has taught us that death does not go on forever, like infinity. It has a limit. And Jesus’ human life extends beyond that limit of death.
If you find this difficult to grasp, it’s no wonder.
Let’s go back for a moment to the beginning of Jesus’ human pilgrimage, in the womb of the Virgin. We have a hard time really grasping, really getting a lock on that reality.
After all, we have a hard time conceiving fully the reality of any human conception. Do I understand fully how I myself came to be in my mother’s womb? How my human pilgrimage began? Does my mind ‘get’ every aspect of it? Every biological, historical, relational, anatomical, nutritional, sociological, ontological aspect of my own conception in my own mother’s womb? Hardly. And there are lots of other aspects besides. I for one cannot claim to understand fully even a single one of those aspects.
Then, in Jesus’ case, you throw in something else. When the Holy Spirit conceived Him in Mary’s womb, God Almighty, eternal and ineffable, began a human pilgrimage. God became a tiny baby. That’s what we call a genuinely unfathomable mystery.
Guess what: The same degree of mystery attends the end of the Lord’s pilgrimage. We believe in the Incarnation, because God has given us the gift of faith. We need that same gift of divine faith to hold in our minds the sublime reality of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven.
Yes, we know as a simple fact that His earthly pilgrimage did end. But it ended like this: Not in a cemetery, but with a human being, body and soul, entering into…
Heaven. The realm of God. Eternity. Perpetual peace. Utter happiness that nothing can disturb. Endless joyful music that never gets boring. A meal that never leaves you tired or bloated. Fearless, comforting friendship. Wisdom with no darkness at all.
The pilgrimage of the Lord Jesus ended with this.
In this, and in nothing less, lies our Christian hope. In our pilgrimage on earth, we must often drink the cup of bitterness. This world, beautiful as it can be, does not know justice. It does not know truth. We will truly enjoy happiness only when we share in the undisturbed communion that binds the divine Father with the divine Son.
Jesus, every bit as human as we are, has entered into that communion completely. Therefore, we fellow human beings can hope to get there, too.