One of today’s biggest tragedies is to turn Jesus into a vaguely remembered figure located/situated in a faraway distance. Our culture tends to read the ascension as “enlightenment” rather than a biblical reality, and it causes a huge misconception. Under the “enlightenment” explanation, ascension means that Jesus has gone up to heaven where it is far away and is irrelevant to our world. That is why atheists often read the story of the Ascension and say, "We are just dealing with wild fantasies here. What a myth!" So, on the Feast of the Ascension, what does Jesus teach in the Mark's Gospel about the Ascension?
"Then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God" (Mk 16:19). Even though Jesus ascends into heaven to the dimension of God, He has not gone upwards and far away, rather he is going to heaven so that He can direct His operations more fully and completely on earth. The "heavenly throne" of Christ means that He is more present on earth. From this higher and more inclusive dimension, He can now reign over all the earth. He can be present, not only in Palestine for a period of time and in space, but He is also fully present to all of His creations forever! That is why it is erroneous to consider ascension as “Jesus has left” or “He is way up there in some place, and now we are on our own.” On the contrary, He is gone to reign and to continue the work of building up His kingdom here below. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven” (Mt 6:10). He is gone more deeply and fully into our world, to a dimension that transcends ours, and at the same time, impinges deeply upon us. His own personal ministry is now happening in His mystical body of the Church in which He is directing. He intends to return in order to bring the full reconciliation of heaven and earth!
So, how do we respond to this beautiful and truthful reality? It is precisely when the angels, two men dressed in white garments, stand beside the disciples who are gazing up to the heaven and say, "Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky" (Acts 1.10)? Jesus always wants to encounter us in an intimate and personal way. He is coming to touch our hearts, and to breathe His life into our situations, difficulties, desires, and our life. Therefore, do not stare up to heaven and look towards a distant figure, rather cling to Him dearly and draw to Him closely. Then get to work, help to build up this new order of God so that the path of love, forgiveness, and non-violence can be fully restored. That I think is what the Feast of the Ascension is about.
This is an excerpt from Bishop Robert Barron’s homilies, including “THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HEAVEN AND EARTH”, “SEATED AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE FATHER”, and “FEAST OF THE ASCENSION”. For more information, please visit Word On Fire.