Readings: Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11, 34-35; Psalm 47; Ephesians 4:1-13; Mark 16:15-20
What’s UP? Well, first of all, I can safely say that there is no such thing as UP. ‘Up’ is a relative term after one has decided what direction is down. As remarked by St. Paul, “What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he descended into the lower regions of the Earth?” (Ephesians 4:9) Once you move out of the realm of gravity and the Earth as the Universe (which evidently is not in play for Jesus today) there is no such thing as UP. More on this later…
Interestingly there is a 2009 computer-animated fantasy film by that name. The film centers on an elderly widower named Carl Fredricksen and an earnest boy named Russell. By tying thousands of balloons to his house, Carl sets out to fulfill his dream to see the wilds of South America and complete a promise made to his late wife, Ellie. The film was based on fantasies of escaping from life when it becomes too irritating. Escapism and fantasy are not what Heaven is about. Heaven is about building the Kingdom of God, here and now.
As for what Heaven is, St. Paul writes, “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9) It is a fair question to ask if Heaven is even a thing or a location? The Holy Scriptures and the Catholic Catechism (CC 1023-1029) offer us some idea of what we might ponder regarding today’s readings for the Ascension. Contrary to many orthodox ‘Christian teachings’, the scriptures actually teach that Heaven/The kingdom of God… is within you. “Now when He [Jesus Christ] was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God [Heaven] does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God [Heaven] is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21) Heaven is not “out there” somewhere; Heaven is a spiritual realm within you that is reflected in a world wrought with love and justice.
This new reality is possible because God creates man and woman in his “image,” (Genesis 1:27) and right now this creation (you & me) are being formed into his ‘likeness,” (Genesis 5:1) and God does this within your heart/mind. God is not working on a physical location preparing His people to one day ascend to. He’s preparing YOU within, to change your heart/mind so that together with the Holy Spirit we can change the world. God lives within the temple that is within us. As Teresa of Avila wrote, your soul is the throne of God. So too does St. Paul write, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) God’s word is spirit, and if His word dwells in you, then the Holy Spirit dwells within you, the temple of God. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh (the manmade systems) profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63) We are called to transform the principalities of this world into the heavenly Kingdom of God on earth.
So why are we standing here looking up at the sky? Jesus is not up in the sky, he is with the Father, and he has left to us the completion of the good works begun in him. And we are not alone, no! He has given us the Holy Spirit. We are to be kingdom people, working to build the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is a ‘commonwealth of love and justice’1 that is already, but not yet. It is a reality among us and within us as God’s grace flowing through us. It is about peace, and joy, and love. It invites us to be reformed into the likeness of God, our truest self that we see in Jesus. Jesus who is All-Mighty, was also all-just, all-loving, and all-merciful. Jesus the All-Mighty also came as the All-Vulnerable God – in equal measure. His vulnerability, and ours, makes us open and ready to become who we are destined to be. It is His wounds that open Jesus to us, and it is our wounds that open us to the world. Don’t say, “I am too weak, too young, too old or too late.” Don’t ask when, The time is now! Don’t ask whom, the person is you! What is holding us back?
I end with a quote from Marianne Williamson: (Quoted byNelson Mandella in his inaugural address delivered in Cape Town, South Africa 24 years ago May 9, 1994)
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.2
When we can live in this freedom ~ the Kingdom of God is truly at hand!
- Fowler, James, W. Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian: Adsult Development and Christian Faith. Rev. ed. SanFrancisco: Harper, 1981
- Williamson, Marianne A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles. Harper, 1992