• Acts 1:1-11 • Hebrews 9: 24-28; 10: 19-23 • Luke 24: 46-53 • Ascension C ’13 •
Print PDF: Weekly Homily 05.12.2013
Scripture Readings: Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
Occasionally the influence of a single book or story has deeply shaped my life for years. “The Little Prince” is one such story, especially this single line. “It is only with the heart that one sees rightly, for what is essential is invisible to the eye.” To see with the eyes of the heart is to know, value and love the other as a brother/a sister.
Another such story is Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables.” I read the unabridged version many years ago, saw the stage play, and recently watched Stephan Spielberg’s film adaptation. It is the story of Jean Val Jean who in spite of enormous adversity was able to see with the eyes of the heart. For me he is a “Christ figure” and a model of what all of us who seek to follow and imitate Christ are to become.
Christ is risen! [Truly he is risen.] Mark and Matthew are the earliest of the four written gospels and John is the last. Only Luke speaks of Christ’s “Ascension” to the Father. He provides us two versions of how the Risen One was “taken up.” Such disparity among the Evangelists reflects the sort of challenges that confronted those first Christian communities.
They were convinced God had raised Jesus from death. Their texts claim various experiences of encounter with the Risen One. They no longer experienced such encounters with the Risen One so how were they to enable others to accept the witness of their community.
Luke’s solution was limited to the cosmology of that time with the image of a “three-decker universe.” So Luke tells us the Risen One “was taken up;” “he was lifted up and a cloud took him from their sight;” “he parted from them, and was taken up to heaven.”
Our understanding of the universe, our cosmology today, is far different than that of the evangelists who wrote the gospels. For Luke, to be “taken up” may have meant the Risen One is now five, fifty or one hundred miles above the clouds that float across our sky.
Luke’s dilemma creates a different dilemma for us. We know the cosmos is far more complex and extensive than that three-decker model available to Luke. So how do we resolve our dilemma? Perhaps Luke intended his Ascension accounts to be understood literally. To do so requires us to ignore or deny modern physics, astronomy and cosmology. It would reduce faith to some childish fantasy.
Part of our dilemma is this. For pious Jews like Luke, heaven and Earth were not separate. Heaven and Earth were understood to mingle. Or as ancient Celtic tradition expressed it, “only a thin veil separates those living on Earth from those who have gone before us.” It is different for those of us living in the west today. We are burdened with dualistic thinking. For us, everything seems divided: soul/body, secular/sacred, Heaven/Earth, science/religion.
“It is only with the heart that one sees rightly, for what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Jesus of Nazareth “saw with the eye of the heart.” For him, God is not far off in a place called “heaven.” God is with us, in us, among us.
That the Risen One was “taken up” means his historic Earth bound presence has ended. The Risen One lives and has been raised to a level of existence beyond that of Earth; free of all physical or temporal limitations.
Physical absence does not negate presence. The relationship of the Risen One with us, and the cosmos is dynamically far more present than we are able to experience with one another. Luke’s two Ascension narratives introduce us to the “age of The Spirit.” The Spirit of the Risen One awakens our creativity, providing light and strength to help us discover the Christ Mystery in ways relevant to this time in which we live.
Christ is risen! [Truly he is risen.] “It is only with the heart that one sees rightly, for what is essential is invisible to the eye.”