Christ is Gone to Set Up a Place for Us
For the feast of the Ascension, Fr Ralph de Hahn reflects on the meaning of Christ’s physical departure from earth.
The beautiful feast of the Ascension of our Lord into Heaven strikes a triumphant note to all believers. The Son of God returns to his heavenly Father: “Mission accomplished!”
Yet, there is this undying mystery in this mission for “no one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven”(Jn 3:13).
St Augustine (354-430) attempts to clarify this mystery by adding: “Jesus came down from heaven without leaving his heavenly Father, and went up, ascended into heaven without leaving us.”
We recall the Lord’s departing words: “I am with you always, even till the end of the world” (Mt 28:20).
Jesus returns to the Father with a joyful message of hope: “I am going to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with me, so that where I am you also may be” (Jn 14:2-3).
Now we briefly return to the day of the Resurrection. Jesus is speaking to Mary Magdalene: “Go, and tell the brothers I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God” (Jn 20:17).
Our liturgy gives us the scriptural texts of Mark 16:19 that “he was taken up into heaven”, with Luke adding that “he blessed the disciples, withdrew from them, and was carried up to heaven” (24:50).
The Acts of the Apostles give us yet another interesting version: “He was lifted up while they looked on, and a cloud took him from their sight…and the angel spoke: ‘Why are you men from Galilee standing there and looking into the sky? This same Jesus will come back in the same way as you have seen him go there’” (1:9-11).
So Where Is Heaven?
Many are led to believe that this mysterious heaven is a place beyond the clouds.
We know that heaven is where God is; and he is infinite in every possible way — far beyond measure, outside time, not limited by any material structure; with no beginning, and no end.
We must conclude that the whole earth and the awesome space even beyond the stars and the seemingly endless oceans are a small part of God’s heaven. He came to earth to make heaven on earth.
All our earthly humanity is, in fact, heaven-bound — but only through the doors of death.
Let us not forget Jesus speaking to the blinded Saul outside the gates of Damascus: “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9). He meant “my body, my Church”!
Christ is clearly the head, and we the body. Surely the body cannot be separated from the head. He came to earth, as the son of Man, to express the Father’s love, and to make as sons and daughters of God; to heal and to redeem. With his dying breath, the crucified Redeemer made known that the scriptures had been fulfilled: “It is accomplished.”
The ascension of Jesus reassures us that while we are now not with him in his glorious and brilliant Godhead, we are with him in prayer, faith, hope and loving.
And although he is “raised above the clouds”, we, his members, still experience suffering on earth, as he had foretold.
Heaven is closer than we can ever hope for or imagine. And the message of the Ascension offers us an overpowering hope and yearning for something inexplicably beautiful, for “I am going to prepare a place for you…”
Fr Ralph de Hahn is a priest of the archdiocese of Cape Town.
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