The Ascension and Upward Mobility

Jesus is true God and true man. What becomes of Him also points to us

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Faith

The Church is in the post-Ascension period, waiting for the promised Paraclete. Jesus instructed His Apostles to stay in Jerusalem to await the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is notoriously ambiguous on timing. The Spirit will come “in a few days.” Luckily, He set His departure date and was only dealing with the Apostles. Had He had to cope with their American successors, His heavenly ascent might have been put off until the following Sunday, since Thursdays are generally “pastorally” inconvenient.

The Apostles also seemed not to push back on His nice way of telling them “none of your business” when it comes to the Second Coming. “Are You going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?” “It is not yours to know.” I recently saw a meme that captured the message well. Using an image from the old “Andy Griffith Show,” it shows Andy and his boy Opie fishing. “Pa, do we know when Jesus is coming back?” “Nah, Ope, see, Jesus put us on the Welcome Committee, not the Planning Committee.”

(By the way, I’m told that when it comes to the lack of Divine “listening sessions” so the “People of God” can “accompany” and “welcome” the returning Lord, the diocesan strategic planning types are not amused).

So, the Church is in a waiting phase — waiting according to God’s good time (if not the USCCB’s) for the accomplishment of God’s Promise.

I want to reflect further, however, on the connection of the Ascension to the larger sweep of salvation history, how the Ascension “fits” into that picture.

Jesus ascends to the right hand of His Father and to “prepare a place” for us. His physical bodily appearances in the world cease, remaining instead with us in the Eucharist (as we already saw at Emmaus when, upon recognizing Him “in the breaking of the bread” He disappears in His physical body because it’s there in another form).

Jesus is true God and true man. What has become of Him, therefore, also points to us. As the Preface of the Ascension reminds us that “we, His members, might be confident of following where He, our Head and Founder, has gone before.” The Ascension therefore has an essential link — as we are told on the Ascension itself (“This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven” Acts 1:11) — with the Second Coming.

Jesus — a human body and soul — is in heaven. This is what the Second Coming will bring to completion: that we, as human bodies and souls in the resurrection of the body, join Him there. Jesus’ “upward mobility” enables ours.

In some sense, then, it’s fitting that Ascension falls near the beginning of Ordinary Time because this period of the liturgical year, like the Christian life itself, now spends it time mulling and spreading Jesus’ teaching while stretching forward until the end of the world and consummation of all things. This happens in the liturgical year, in the last weeks of Ordinary Time; in the Christian life, at the Second Coming.

Finally, it’s also fitting that — somewhere in the middle of that liturgical time — we celebrate (provided it doesn’t fall on a Saturday or Monday in the United States) the Solemnity of the Assumption. While Mary’s Assumption is, in one sense, a special privilege of her whose body bore the Body of the Savior to be preserved from corruption, in another sense it’s the “second fruits” of the “first fruits” of the Resurrection. Mary’s “upward mobility” at the Assumption follows from the grace and power of Her Son’s Resurrection and, in some sense, previews our own. Mary’s Assumption shows the trajectory established by the Ascension and promises what God has planned “for those who love Him.”

In that sense, I find the Protestant argument that Mary’s Assumption is “extra-Scriptural” or “unbiblical” unpersuasive. Inasmuch as the Bible itself is the product of the living Church and her Tradition (as one apologist noted, God may have given us the Books of the Bible but didn’t throw in the table of contents; it was the Church that needed to determine what was inspired and what was not) so, too, is the Assumption: Mary’s being assumed into heaven is an ancient Tradition of the Church. Moreover, when seen against the vision of salvation history and theological anthropology contained in Scripture, what the Tradition of faith holds is also eminently reasonable.

So, as we mark these days between Ascension and Pentecost, we are not just “waiting” for the Holy Spirit… and then what? We, who already live in the wake of Pentecost, know that we, too, are awaiting the fullness of the Spirit already at work in us to carry Jesus’ Life and Teaching “to the ends of the earth” until the day when “His Spirit living in you… will give life to your mortal bodies” (Rm 8:11) to be “caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we shall be with the Lord forever” (I Thes 4:17).

 

John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are exclusively his.

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