The Feast of the Ascension and the Feast of Pentecost are really two sides of the same coin. People have this image of Jesus finishing His work here on earth and then ascending into a heavenly retirement while the Holy Spirit takes care of things for a while. There is obviously a more beautiful truth to all this than that. Let’s look at just the Ascension to start and examine Pentecost next week. Jesus is a man of mission, time and time again in scripture He says that He comes to do the Father’s will and that He has not lost anything/anyone that belongs to the Father, and that through Him we can know and be in the Father.
Let’s take those one at a time because some of this can sound a little complicated, first off Jesus‘s mission is one that consumes His entire identity. In fact, the mission of love is what/who Jesus is at heart since “God is love.” While all three persons of the Trinity act in perfect love all the time, there are some qualities that while belonging to all, more commonly just get talked about with one. It’s kind of like a father, a mother, and a daughter in a good family can all be called nurturers. However, the mother might more commonly be associated with the ‘nurturing’ trait. It doesn’t diminish the other persons, but it does help to celebrate a special role the mother frequently lives out. Jesus and His Holy Spirit are associated with this ‘mission’, but we hear that it was given by the Father. You see, it belongs to all three, but we celebrate it in different ways in the different persons of the Trinity.
The next point is that the Father has given Jesus everything and everyone in this world. This means that we belong to our creator, the creator is all three persons, but that trait is most commonly celebrated with the Father. The Father loves His Son so much that He gives Him everything, which includes me and you. The Son loves the Father and is so faithful to His mission that He will not lose anything or anyone the Father gives, and what’s more, the Son will redeem those creatures so that they will be fitting gifts for the Father. Here’s where the Ascension comes in.
Through the passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, death is defeated and more importantly the forgiveness of sins is offered to all of us. Jesus has gone down into the depths of sin and death, becoming dead, becoming in some sense ruled by sin. In this process of total abasement and divine abandonment He goes into every human heart, every human soul, no matter how lost or damaged that person may be. He then defeats it, rises from the dead, and appears in a glorified state of life! The Ascension is this amazing celebration that after all that, God is not done! Understand this well, Jesus came so that you might have life and have it to the full (John 10:10) but that does NOT mean just a long rich healthy life here on earth!
In fact, it very often means the opposite. It very often means that in God’s providence struggles befall us so that we might do our part to unite ourselves with Christ since He has already done His share of suffering.. Remind yourself of that every day, this life is only an introduction or perhaps sadly a dismissal to the life God intends for you. Lastly, only God lives that kind of life. Only God is eternal. Only God loves perfectly. Only God, Only God, Only God... forever and ever lives, loves, and exists in perfection and yet that is what we say heaven is. So here’s the really cool part, Jesus’ mission was to bring you to Himself, it was what the Father wanted, and what the Holy Spirit wills and effects. God never fails. In Baptism, you are His, a new creation. In Confirmation, you are His, living in the strength of the Spirit. In the Eucharist, you are His, one body in Christ. We get to go to Heaven precisely insofar as we are united or “in communion” with God. The Ascension is when we celebrate Jesus fulfilling His mission and bringing what was lost back to the Father in the most beautiful way possible!
“God became man, so that man might become like God.” St. Irenaeus and St. Athanasius