â€˜He Ascended into Heavenâ€™
May. 28, 2009
At the time of Sputnik - first space orbit - the cosmonaut hailed as a hero by many blatantly observed that in his travels, he did not find "heaven." It would seem that technology proved that heaven was a myth. Some discussion took place. However, this largely became a footnote in the history of "progress."
Meanwhile, millions of Christians continue to recite the Creed. In addition, in the recitation they accept as an article of belief that Christ indeed has ascended into heaven. Because it is part of our dogmatic system and not merely something irrelevant, it might be well to turn our attention to this truth to try to decode the practical relevance for our life.
The use of the word "ascends" connotes the idea of rising. And in our case, (backed by the imagery of Sacred Scripture) it may be interpreted as a rising out of sight, beyond human boundaries. However, the boundaries of which we are speaking are even beyond the normal categories of space and time. And these thoughts we must keep in mind as we try to "locate" heaven.
Basically, heaven may be said to be the place where (in its broadest sense) the Body of the Risen Christ is present. The Creed describes the Lord as "sitting at the right hand of the Father" - the seat of power, judgment, and forgiveness. Such are our feeble attempts to try to concretize a mystery, using imagery with which Christians were familiar.
As we think about the Ascension, we probably instinctively think about Christ separating Himself from this world. Again, Scripture bolsters this idea. But we may also broaden our scope so that it would include not the separation of earth from heaven but the idea that Christ brought earth and our concerns into heaven. I think this is more in line with the observation in the Letter to the Hebrews that Christ now lives "to intercede." He brings our needs and desires before the throne of the Heavenly Father.
At this point, we might digress a little to reflect upon the power of Christ's intercessory prayer. As we know from the Book of Revelation, Christ carries in His Resurrected Body the wounds of His Passion. The very sight of this must cause the Father painful memories as He recalls the pain of Calvary and every time the Father looks upon them, He must also recall the love Christ had for His brothers and sisters that compelled Him to undergo such suffering for them. With these two currents of thought running through the Father's mind, do we really think that He will refuse His Son's prayers on our behalf? In a way, such a refusal might be interpreted as prolonging Christ's Passion.
Secondly, in our prayer of intercession, we always ask "through Christ Our Lord." This is not an empty phrase; it is an exhortation to have in our minds "the mind of Jesus Christ" (Phil.). Our attitude should be that of Christ - ready to do the Father's will no matter the cost.
When Christ was about to ascend into Heaven, He made a promise that He would be with us all days. In a mystery of reversibility, Christ brings heaven to earth. And this, too, is part of the mystery of the Ascension. In Baptism, He bonds with us - promising to walk with us and support us every step of our lives. And this bonding means that He brings us and our concerns before the Father.
His promise to be with us embraces the Church, which is His Body. There is a unique sacramental structure associated with the Church whereby we actually meet the Risen Lord in so many ways, especially through the sacraments. And because He is not circumscribed by time or space we can meet the Living Lord any time in prayer. The Ascension provides a commentary of the expression "heaven on earth," though not in the terms we might think. We might begin by asking ourselves when we meet the Risen Lord. Is it not in the poor, the suffering, and the hurting? Did He not declare, "As long as you did it to the least of these, you did it to Me" (Mt. 25)? It is a challenging concept. In addition, it demands reverential respect when we encounter the hurting of our world.
To return to our cosmonaut, he was correct in his insight that 'heaven" was not a place, as we know places. However, he was wrong because in failing to see beyond the concrete categories of time and space, he did not allow himself to be drawn to a more mystical approach to heaven.