Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Ascension: the Meeting of Heaven and Earth

Homily from the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord - Year A

For the last seven months, we’ve heard about the many mysteries of the life of Jesus.  In December, we celebrated his birth.  In February, we observed his presentation in the temple.  In March, we began the 40 day journey of Lent in preparation for his passion, death, and resurrection in April.  Throughout May we observed with great joy the presence of the risen Lord as he made himself known to his disciples.  And today, with the advent of June, we observe Jesus’ last day on earth as we celebrate his ascension into Heaven

The way Jesus leaves is kind of strange.  His body is lifted up off the ground and a cloud takes him up into Heaven.  It almost sounds mythological.  But it shows us an important truth.  The journey of Jesus from earth to Heaven shows us that there is a connection between these two places.

Sometimes we look at Heaven and earth as something of opposites.  That Heaven is the good place and earth is a bad place.  But that’s simply not the case.  After all, God made the Heavens and the earth and when He did so, He saw that it was all good.  Heaven is the place where God dwells. earth is the place where we pray and work for the will of God to be done.  The central theme of Jesus’ preaching is the coming together of Heaven and Earth.  And this is what the Church is for, it’s where Heaven and Earth meet.

This Church is a great example of the meeting of Heaven and Earth.  The architecture itself suggests it.  We gather in a space built on the solid foundation of the Earth which reaches up high into the Heavens with this magnificent dome. 

In some churches their ceilings will be painted with images of God and Jesus, the angels and the stars of the sky.  And as you descend, you’ll see images of the Saints, until you reach us who are still here on Earth.

I told Monsignor we should do that here with our cupola. An image of Christ right in the center.  And, coincidentally, there are 12 panels of the cupola. A really fitting place for images of the 12 Apostles!

Our music is a meeting of Heaven and Earth.  Our voices are raised up to the heavens.  When we sing the “Holy, Holy” we say, “And so, with all the choirs of angels in Heaven we proclaim your glory and join in their unending hymn of praise.”  Those aren’t just poetic words, it’s a reality. Here in this Church our voices of song become one with the angelic choirs of Heaven. “Heaven and Earth are full of [His] glory.”

We use incense to symbolize our prayers rising up to Heaven.

The host and the chalice are elevated as we join our liturgy here on Earth to the eternal liturgy in Heaven.

But the Ascension of Jesus isn’t just about our looking up to Heaven.  It’s also about bringing Heaven down to earth.

Consider the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father.  Jesus said, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.”  It is a prayer that Heaven and Earth may come together; that God may reign here on Earth as He does in Heaven .  Not just waiting for things to get better once we get to Heaven.  It’s about doing the will of God here, today.  It’s about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and giving shelter to the homeless.  It’s about restoring order and justice here on earth.

The Mass gives us one hour a day (or one hour a week) to look up to Heaven.  But then we’ve got to spend the rest of our hours bringing Heaven to earth.

When the disciples stood there on the mountain, looking up into the sky after the ascension, a couple of angels appear and ask them, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking up at the sky?”  It’s as if they’re saying, “Quit gawking and get moving. Jesus just told you to be his witnesses in the world. Do what he said. Go make disciples of all nations. Baptize them. You have work to do.”

Jesus ascends from Earth to Heaven, and departs this world and leaves our sight because we now have work to do: His work; the building up of God’s Kingdom “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

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