Father Donald Senior, CP

June 2: Ascension of the Lord

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Eyes of the heart

Acts 1:1-11; Ps 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9; Ps 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9; Eph 1:17-23; Lk 24:46-53

The Letter to the Ephesians uses an intriguing mixed metaphor in today’s reading: “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.”

What are the “eyes of the heart”? Ordinary eyes see ordinary things like objects we can grasp, examine and touch. Perhaps there are some things for which we need a different set of “eyes” — things intangible, things only imagined or hoped for?

The author of Ephesians cites some of these intangibles: the hope about our ultimate future we hold as Christians; the unimaginable beauty and richness of God’s love for us; the “surpassing greatness of God’s power;” the inheritance of unending and ecstatic life that is supposed to be our inheritance.

The feast of the Ascension distills all of our hope as Christians and puts it on the destiny of Jesus. The actual description of the Ascension is found only at the end of Luke’s Gospel and is repeated at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles. Both passages are included in the readings for this Ascension Sunday.

After spending 40 days with his disciples in Jerusalem, the Risen Christ takes them out to Bethany, the village on the Eastern slope of the Mount of Olives (where Jesus had enjoyed the hospitality of Lazarus, Mary and Martha). Here he disappears from their sight and the amazed disciples are told by an angel to go back to Jerusalem and await the coming of the Spirit — the event of Pentecost that is fast approaching.

In Luke’s perspective, the ascension of Jesus represents his final destiny with God, his loving Father. Having poured out his life in healing, teaching and bringing justice and joy to the poor, Jesus suffered death because of his fearless mission for others. Now God rescued him from death and would bring him to himself in glory. 

Jesus’ life had come full circle. Sent by God into the world, he was now returning to God filled with life. While the other Gospels do not explicitly describe the ascension, each of them firmly believes that God raised Jesus from the dead and brought him back to loving communion with him. Jesus, the refrain goes, is exalted at God’s right hand.

There is a somewhat astounding principle of our Christian tradition that says what happens to Jesus will happen to us. At times this can include experiencing rejection and opposition as we try to live a Christ-like life. But it also means passing through death to new and unimaginable life with God and those we love. 

This is the ultimate meaning of the feast of the Ascension. We, too, will be rescued from death and will be immersed in the eternal love of God.

There are some things about our Christian faith that are not so hard to grasp. We know from all kinds of human wisdom that it is better to give than to receive, that it is better to love and serve others rather than become their enemies. We know we should be kind and generous to those who are vulnerable and in need.

But there are other things not so easy to believe or to hope for. I think ascension is one of them. Is there really life beyond death or is this a figment of our imagination? Is our inheritance with God a life of unending love and joy or are we kidding ourselves? Is our Christian faith credible in today’s world or is this something that really smart people smile at indulgently?

The things we hope for and that generations of Christians before us have believed — and have even given their lives for — are realities only glimpsed with the “eyes of the heart.” On this feast of the Ascension we pray with the man in the Gospel who exclaimed: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”


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