Thursday, May 5, 2016

Homily for Ascension Thursday

Homily for
Ascension Thursday
May 5, 2016
Acts 1: 1-11
Salesian Missions, New Rochelle

“The Ascension of Christ your Son is our exaltation” (Collect).

Exaltation means “a lifting up,” a promotion, a glorifying, or in the “exalted” language of Merriam-Webster, a “raising in rank, power, or character,” an “elevation by praise or in estimation,” a “raising high”—what Hillary and the Donald are aspiring to, above all other citizens.

"Men of Galilee, why are you standing there?"
Our feast today celebrates the exaltation of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ.  The Scriptures—and traditional Christian art—portray his exaltation in both literal and figurative form:  he’s physically lifted up to the heavens on a cloud, accompanied by angels (Acts 1:9), and enthroned in heaven at the Father’s right side (Eph 1:20).

But the Collect or opening prayer called Christ’s ascension “our exaltation,” our elevation, our being raised on high.

If you’re like me, you don’t feel terribly exalted, terribly glorified, in a perpetually great mood—not unless you’re using some happy pills.  No, but the Collect also uses the word hope:  “where the Head has gone before in glory, the Body is called to follow in hope.”  We’re Christ’s Body—you’ve heard that many times, I’m sure.  You and I were baptized into Christ; we’ve been given a share of his Holy Spirit; we receive his Body and Blood.  We are his Body, and we have abundant confidence, abundant hope that he doesn’t want us to be left behind; he wants his Body to be whole and intact!  In fact, at the Last Supper he promised the disciples: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places [many superb suites!].  If there were not, would have told that I am going to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be” (John 14:2-3)

So, even as we struggle on earth to live faithfully, to practice virtue, to do what’s right—sometimes just to make it thru the day, sometimes not to throw a brick thru the TV—we do keep our eyes on Christ, who’s pulling us toward him.  We pray also in the Collect that almighty God “gladden us with holy joys and make us rejoice with devout thanksgiving” because of this hope that we have; that we live every day with joy because we know that God loves us, that Christ has saved us, that Christ wants us to be with him.

Not that we’re supposed just to sit here and wait for his return, wait for the rapture.  Someone once said, “Some folks are so heavenly minded that they ain’t no earthly good.”  Attend to what the angels said to the apostles after they’d watch Jesus ascend into the heavens:  “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” (Acts 1:11).  I.e., you guys have got work to do.  Get moving!  The verse before the gospel identified that work:  “Go and teach all nations, says the Lord.”

The gospel reading itself quotes Jesus telling his disciples, “You are witnesses of these things,” i.e., “that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead … and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations” (Luke 24:46-48).  So, with our eyes on Christ and our hearts filled with joyful hope, we have the work of being witnesses of Jesus’ death and resurrection and of his message of mercy from God toward us sinners.  Isn’t that something to be joyful about and something to want to evidence by our words and actions every day?

Here at Salesian Missions, of course, we actually engage in “teaching all nations” about God’s love for us in Christ.  What a blessing to combine your livelihood with Christ’s very own mission of bringing people to his Father!

But the 1st people to witness our hope and joy to aren’t the people reading our poems and brochures and Web page.  It’s our families:  our spouses, children, parents, in-laws, my Salesian confreres; our co-workers; and the people in our parish and our social circles.

St. Paul prays that the hearts of the Ephesians “be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to God’s call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones [the saints] … for us who believe.”  May you know that indeed, and may it fill you with overflowing joy, and may you live in Christ every day until you come to the inheritance, the heavenly dwelling place, that Christ has got ready for you!

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