May 4, 2008

HOMILY ON THE FEAST OF ASCENSION OF THE LORD, Year A - Given at Cronulla on May 3-4 2008.

Readings: ACTS 1: 1-11; EPHESIANS 1: 17-23; MATTHEW 28: 16-20


Today we celebrate the great feast of the Ascension of the Lord, body and soul into Heaven. The Ascension is one of the great feasts in the Church’s calendar.


It is most closely related, in meaning, to Christmas. You might be thinking, Christmas – that is the time of presents, cribs and children.

So how is the ascension closely related to Christmas?

At Christmas, what it means to be God becomes a part of what it means to be a human being. At Christmas, God became united with humanity. In Jesus, the human and the divine become united in the person and life of one man. My friends, Christmas is not about toys and lights and tinsel. It is about God becoming completely united with humanity.


At the Ascension, this human being-the person and the resurrected body of Jesus-became for all eternity a part of who God is. For all eternity now, humanity is an integral part of God and of what it means to be God.


Before the world was created, God created the spirits and angels. God created angels as the highest of all creatures and these angels had the freedom to choose whether they would do good or reject the good. Among the highest of these angels was an angel named Lucifer, who in time, rejected God and became what we now know as the Devil. The Scriptures, in Genesis, and different parts of the Old Testament, and also in New Testament in St Paul’s writings and in the Book of Revelation, refer to the casting out of Lucifer and the evil angels from God’s presence. The Angels were the highest of all the creatures, but Lucifer had great pride. He knew he was the best and no-one but God was going to be higher. But God told all the angels, even before creating the world, that a human being would be God. That human beings could become a part of God.


For the angels, this was a terrible thing. They believed that they were the superior being and many of the angels rejected God. In the Garden of Eden, the snake, the personification of evil, tempted Adam and Eve but did not lie. The snake said that Adam and Eve would become like God, knowing good and evil, if they were to eat the fruit.


And indeed because Adam and Eve ate the fruit, God humbled himself and became a man so that man can become God. Today, we celebrate how Christ, God and man, body and spirit, ascended to heaven to unite humanity with God for all eternity.


My friends, the Ascension is a great celebration of the kingdom of God. The first reading, from the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, tells us that after the resurrection, Christ “continued to appear to the disciples and tell them about the kingdom of God.”


Humanity, both spiritually and physically is an essential part of the kingdom of God. Some people talk about being more spiritual. But we can become so focused on the spirit and not worry or respect the body – the physicality. Ultimately we don’t come to church to become more spiritual – we come to church to become more like who we are meant to be – to be like God – both spiritually and physically. We can do good things that are spiritual, but if we don’t do good things that are physically, then what are we. Every moment we are alive we glory to God through our body and hopefully throughout our spirit.


It was not the spirit of Jesus or the divine nature of Jesus that ascended to the Father. It was the resurrected body of Jesus: a body that the disciples had touched, a body that ate and drank with them, a real, physical, but gloriously restored body-bearing the marks of nails and a spear. This is what ascended. This is what, now and forever, is a living, participating part of God.


The Ascension, along with the Incarnation – the celebration of Christmas, is here to tell us that it is a good thing to be a human being; indeed it is a wonderful, an important and a holy thing to be a human being. It is such an important thing that God did it. Even more, the fullness of God now includes what it means to be a human being. The experience, the reality, and the stuff of being a person is so valuable that God has made it a part of God's life.


St Ireneaus famously said: “The Glory of God is a human being fully alive, and human being fully alive is the vision of God.” My friends, the Beatific Vision – the fullness of God’s love and presence will be a human encounter. Heaven will be a human encounter.


People often imagine heaven as a place in the clouds with angels with wings, some bright lights and maybe some smoke.


Heaven, my friends, will be the greatest party you have been to. It will be human, it will have colour, music, videos, joy, laughter. Heaven will be the perfection of a human party.


So what does this all mean to us today?

St Therese of Lisieux famously said that holiness was in doing the ordinary things in life extraordinarily well. Let us live as human beings consciously aware that we are drawn ever closer to God by doing the human things in life in a godly way.


When you make the bed in the morning, make it with a smile and make it with joy. When you drive the car on the road, drive with courtesy, respect and calmness. When you talk to your husband or wife, surprise them with a gift of love and generosity.


Maybe we need to be more spiritual, but I think we need to be more human, and ultimately we need to consciously be more like God.


Let us pray:

Loving Lord, we give you praise and thanks for become like us, for taking on our human condition and for showing us that humanity is called and destined to dwell in your glory and friendship for all eternity. Help us to hear and accept your way and give us the courage to live your way in our families, in our parish, and to all the ends of the earth. We ask this in your name, Jesus, our Lord and our God. Amen.