ASCENSION – A
“Nature, in its infinitely slow process of development, obviously has a drive toward, and thirst for, constantly more highly organized life; but once having reached the level of consciousness, at which there seems to be nothing more to strive for, the impulse turns back upon itself and becomes a drive toward death. All that effort was in the end, not worthwhile.”
(Hans Urs von Balthasar)
With all the dark realities of life and the inconceivable inhumanity and brokenness around us, some world renowned thinkers see the present time as “world-darkening” (Martin Heidegger), a “time of abandonment” (Jacques Ellul), “eclipse of God” (Martin Buber).
Christianity offers a new way of seeing things which we call “theological hope”. We Christians do not deny the fact that our present life is indeed far from the ideal and yet we just do not see it through the eyes of a guilty bystander or an indifferent traveller. It is a vision of realities which is deeper than optimism because it is the way God sees his creation: charged with a grand purpose yet mysteriously hidden in the eyes of the beholder.
Today as we celebrate the Ascension we do not only see it as the culmination of the earthly life of Jesus but his glorification by the Father for a “mission accomplished”. It was the ultimate reward for his unwavering obedience to the will of the Father that cost him everything: from emptying himself when he became man in the mystery of the incarnation that led to his further emptying of self in the mystery of the cross. We see Ascension as the exaltation of the One who went down to the abyss of death and experienced what was to be absolutely cut off from God which we call hell. From Separation to Communion! It was the crowning moment of the One who gave up everything to the point of shedding the last drop of his blood which we call sacrifice. From Emptiness to Fullness!
And yet we do not see it as Jesus’ retirement so he can enjoy heaven together with the angels. It is actually a beginning of a new chapter in the history of salvation. There is too much to be done so Jesus entrusted to his disciples the same mission he received from his Father:
Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you. And he promised to remain with them always, until the end of the world…..
This means that the incarnation of Jesus continues through his presence as the Head of Body, the Church. Now he lives but not anymore limited by time and space because there is something that he wants us to embrace beyond the physical world and that is eternal life. “That is the ultimate and highest thing that Christian belief is supposed to be able to hope for” (von Balthasar). And what is eternal life? It is more than unending existence, it is sharing the divine bliss with God who is the supreme good which is beyond measure. And this eternity starts right here, right now.