Homily for the Ascension of the Lord

28 -29 May

Let us go back to the beginning in order that we might enter the mystery of the feast we celebrate this weekend, that of the Ascension of Our Lord. We read from St John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Jn 1:1). In the fullness of time, “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (1 Jn:14). This is a reference to the incarnation, that moment when the divine took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary (Lk 1:31). Theologians sometimes call this the “condescension” of God. He lowered himself “taking the form of a servant” (Phil 2:7) and became like us in all things “yet was without sin” (Heb 4:15).

Why did God do this? The answer to this question is explored in the book of Genesis. Having created the world good, God and man are described as sharing an intimate friendship. This changed when Adam and Eve sinned (Gn 2:4-3:24). Theologians sometimes call this Original Sin “The Fall”. And from what did Adam and Eve fall? They fell from grace, from God’s friendship, and were no longer intimate with Him.

It is to right this wrong that the Word became flesh, condescending to our human condition. On the Cross, Our Lord, the sinless one paid the price for our sin; and because he was sinless the bonds of death could not hold him. His resurrection is therefore a sign that death has been defeated. And though we labor still under the weight of Adam’s sin we walk by faith, united to Jesus by His Grace, to share in his resurrection when the time for our death comes.

This brings us to the Ascension of Our Lord. What happens is the opposite of his “condescension”. Whereas the incarnation celebrates God entering our presence, the ascension celebrates man reentering God’s presence. Jesus, who is both fully God and fully man, has ascended, and the intimacy lost by sin is restored by grace. Once more man is with God and God is with man. Moreover, where Jesus our head is, we his body hope to follow.

This Good News would ordinarily be enough to fill us with great joy. God, in his great love for us, does not wish for intimacy and friendship to be something to look forward to only at the end of our lives. Instead, He gives us even now a foretaste of this intimacy through the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit animates the Church, giving her life, and brings us into God’s intimate friendship now. We experience this through the sacraments which are tangible signs of his presence. We experience this through the communion of the faithful, that is, the bonds of faith that unite us. Finally, we experience this through prayer, here in the liturgy of the Holy Mass and also at home, where we are called to pray daily.

Next week we will celebrate the feast of Pentecost which recalls the gift of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray with Mary in anticipation for this great feast that the Holy Spirit will once again fill us with life and draw us into God’s intimate friendship.