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!