How can we reconcile heaven and earth?

The Ascension of the Lord

ACTS 1:1-11

In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While meeting with the them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for "the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." When they had gathered together they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" He answered them, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? 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."

Ephesians 1:17-23

Brothers and sisters: May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is 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, in accord with the exercise of his great might, which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.

Matthew 28:16-20

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."

The first reading for the Feast of the Ascension this week takes readers to the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostles. We hear that during the forty days between the resurrection and the ascension, Jesus tells his disciple about the Kingdom of God.

The main theme of Jesus’s teaching is also the central focus of the Church. Jesus is the coming together of heaven and earth; that is, of divine nature and human nature. He is all about this Kingdom of God. All actions of Jesus’ ministry, preaching, teaching, healing, outreach, and prayer, point to the reconciliation of heaven and earth. This linkage between heaven and earth reaches its powerful climax in Jesus’ resurrection. The Church, established by Jesus, bears witness to this revelation. Our reading has this amazing truth unfolded.

“He had told them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for what the Father had promised”(Acts 1.4). Jesus tells his disciples to stay in Jerusalem so that they may await the outpouring of the Spirit and be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Being filled with the Spirit of Jesus, they start to bring heaven to earth, and earth to heaven. They become agents of this reconciliation. As Jesus has said explicitly, “You will receive the power of the Holy Spirit which will come on you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1.8). This is precisely what is described in the readings: The apostles are sent to the ends of the earth under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

“As he said this he was lifted up while they looked on, and a cloud took him from their sight” (Acts 1.9). The Feast of Ascension remembers Jesus who, in the corporal realm, has been taken up into heaven. Jesus’ ascension not only commences the coming together of earth and heaven but also anticipates heaven coming to earth. What will happen next week in the Feast of Pentecost is the descent of the Holy Spirit. Now, the connection between Jesus’ body ascending into heaven and the Holy Spirit descending onto the apostles has become clear. They both speak of this reconciliation, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6.10).

This connection is fully revealed in our great Catholic traditions and teachings, in Christian arts, in liturgies and singing in which our voices become one with the angels, the heavenly realm harmonizing with our earthly realm, and vice versa. The same harmony can also be seen in the architecture of our cathedrals and churches, in which when we pray and sing, our voices reach high up to the heavenly realm, and echo back down to us. This also happens in the corporal and spiritual work of mercy. Whenever the Church, in the name of Jesus, reaches out on behalf of the poor, the suffering and the hungry, it brings heaven to earth, and earth to heaven.

“Suddenly two men in white were standing beside them, and they said, ‘Why are you Galileans standing here looking into the sky?'”(Acts 1.11-12) The two men in white are angels. They have been commissioned: Go, and get to work! Do not just stand and look up to heaven, rather, start participating where heaven and earth are coming together. Do we see now why the Feast of the Ascension means so much? Such is also our mission to reconcile heaven and earth whenever we can, on our workbench, office, kitchen, etc. These are altars where we offer love. In everything we think, say, and do, let them be a reconciliation of heaven and earth through love. This is what the ascension is about. This is also what next week’s Pentecost is about, and this is what the Church finally is about. Amen!

Posted: May 28, 2017

Ben Cheng


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