The Ascension of the Lord (A) – May 24, 2020
St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47:2-3, 6-9; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:16-20
When someone starts talking fancy theology about the Paschal Mystery—Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension—we start to zone out. As Fr. Blick says, “Whoa. My A.D.D. is really kicking in.” Even when I was in seminary, there were times when professors would be talking about these incredibly important mysteries…and I just zone out. And it’s because it is so abstract. So let’s keep it concrete.
Relationships. We all have them. Relationships are probably the most important things in our lives. They are also some of the most difficult things in our lives. But we can all point to a relationship. Some relationships are very life giving. These are the relationships with people that generate us, that give us new life. Fathers and mothers are the classic example, but also the archetype for these life giving relationships. We all have a father and mother, but we can point to many father figures and mother figures, people that have generated us, given us new life, that we look up to. In relationship we are given life, we find life and strength and wisdom that we didn’t have before. That relationship has power.
The classic example is with your dad. I remember when I was being a real ding-a-ling when I was a kid, the most powerful line my mother had was, “I’m going to call your dad at work and you and him can sort it out when he gets home.” The invocation of that relationship put a fire in me that I didn’t have before; the relationship had a real power.
But in relationship we feel alive, we have a new life and strength and power we didn’t have before. And an incredibly important part of this relationship is being allowed to work alongside that person. When the person makes you a co-worker with them, and they’re not just in authority over you, that is when things reach a whole new level. I remember one of my favorite things as a kid was working alongside my dad. He would have us up on the roof with him fixing shingles, out planting the several hundred pine trees on our property, changing the oil in the cars. And when I was working on these things with him, I remember feeling like I was essential to the projects. Here I was, eight years old, and I was definitely an essential part to fixing the shingles on the roof.
Only later did I find out that I was very not essential, and that my dad probably could have done things a lot faster and more efficiently and better by himself. Go figure. But that wasn’t the point.
The point was that I was raised to a greater dignity, that I was raised to the status of co-worker, that I was no longer just a little kid but an equal with my dad. Does that make sense? In this un-equal, imbalanced relationship, a relationship where my job was to just shut up and obey what my dad told me to do, to have a sort of servile and subservient fear for him—in this relationship, when we worked alongside one another, I was elevated, raised up, given a greater dignity than I deserved.
Ok, so, tie it together. In the paschal mystery, in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension (and especially next Sunday with Pentecost and the sending of the Spirit)—listen closely—the goal is not to open the gates to heaven that were locked, but to put us in relationship with the Father as sons and daughters and, what’s more, to make us co-heirs with Christ, co-workers, to raise us up to a dignity higher than we deserve.
In his life, Jesus, God the Son, becomes man, shares in our humanity—we become his brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the Father. In his death and resurrection he conquers the powers that hold our humanity captive—and a pathway to a new relationship is opened. And in ascending to the right hand of the Father, we are raised up—we are given more than we deserve.
But we’re not just spoiled kids, no. That’s what the disciples ask in our first reading, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They’re looking for an immediate response, instant gratification. And Jesus’ response—you can almost see him doing a face palm—is, “No. Stop missing the point.” He says, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you”—in this new relationship we have, Jesus is going to give us a life and power, a strength, a wisdom we didn’t have before. Again, think of those relationships in your life.
But then Jesus takes it one step further. Yes, we receive this new life and power, this new relationship. But then he takes it one step further: “You will be my witnesses,” (Acts 1) “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 25). Jesus makes us co-workers, we carry on his mission.
Are we essential? Does Jesus need our help? No, not really. Could Jesus do things are lot faster and better by himself? Yeah, probably. But that’s not the point.
The point is that we are raised to a greater dignity. We are not just the Father’s little kids, but we are raised to co-worker status, equals. The Father doesn’t want us to be his good little slaves, following his commandments out of fear, no. He is offering us the chance to be called sons and daughters of God! He is trying to bring us into the relationship of the Trinity itself.
And you know when you are in this kind of relationship! Other people know, because they ask about it. People can see something new in your life. People ask, “Who are you? What in the world makes you this way?” And just like that, we become witnesses.
When we celebrate the Ascension, we’re not just celebrating Jesus amazing ability to levitate and fly up into the clouds. Nope. We’re celebrating the fulfillment of his mission, his mission of raising us up, of pouring out a new life upon us through this relationship. And we recall and renew our mission to not gloat about this, but to become witnesses to this, to invite others into this relationship.