Sunday Sermon for May 29, 2022, the Solemnity of the Ascension, Year C
Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Heb 9:24-28; 10:19-23; Lk 24:46-53
In the Gospel reading today we are told that Jesus led His Apostles out as far as Bethany where He blessed them and, as He was blessing them, He was taken up to Heaven. St. Luke augments this description of the Ascension t in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. There he tells us that the Ascension took place after forty days and that a cloud took Jesus from their sight. Two angels then appeared and instructed the Apostles that Jesus would return in the same way they saw Him going into Heaven.
The first thing we need to address is the location of the town of Bethany. This town, you will recall, is the town where Martha, Mary, and Lazarus lived. The town is on the Mount of Olives, about two miles east of Jerusalem. It has been long understood that the return of our Lord would not only be similar to the manner of His Ascension, but it would also occur in this same spot. Therefore, Bethany, and the Mount of Olives in general, is a place of great importance for us, not only in the past but also in the future.
The glory of our Lord being taken into Heaven might not seem very startling since we know He is God. As such, He came down from Heaven and so it makes perfect sense that He would return to Heaven when His mission of mercy to humanity was fulfilled. However, there are two points that, while they may not be startling, are of profound importance to us. The first is that our Lord’s Ascension completes His work as our Redeemer. The Resurrection is the greatest event in human history, but if our Lord rose from the dead but did not ascend into Heaven, we could rise from the dead, but we could not enter into Heaven.
The second point may seem obvious, but it is absolutely critical: Jesus took our humanity with Him into Heaven. Prior to the Ascension, only the Trinity and the good angels were in Heaven. Fallen humanity was not only evicted from the Garden of Eden, but we were also barred from entrance into Heaven. Taking our humanity with Him into Heaven opened the way for us to enter into eternal life.
In the Creed we profess that Jesus ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. St. Paul makes this same point in the alternative second reading from Ephesians where he also prays that we will know the riches of the glory of the Father’s inheritance and the greatness of His power for us, the same power He showed in raising Jesus from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in Heaven. From this description one might think that our Lord has been given a well-earned rest and reward for what He did to save us!
However, St. Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews provides insight into what our Lord continues to do for us in Heaven. He tells us Jesus entered into the Sanctuary not made by human hands, that is, not a copy of the true Sanctuary, but into the true Holy of Holies, Heaven itself. More than that, St. Paul tells that in entering Heaven, our Lord appeared before God on our behalf. What He offers is not the blood of bulls and goats, as was offered in the Jewish Temple, but His own Blood.
The blood of the animals was offered daily to cover human sin. Since the animal no longer exists after it is sacrificed, the blood of the animal can only be offered once and, after that, its efficacy ceases. Jesus, on the other hand, because of His resurrection, continues to live. His human Blood that was shed for us continues to have the same ability, not to cover over sin, but to remove it completely. Therefore, while He was sacrificed only once in time, that is, on earth, His sacrifice has infinite and eternal efficacy because He is infinite and eternal as God, and also because He rose from the dead and entered into Heaven in His human nature. This means His humanity now has infinite and eternal life and, therefore, His human Blood has infinite and eternal power to save.
This is why His one sacrifice continues to be offered at Mass. Jesus is not just seated at God’s right hand, but He is continually interceding before God on our behalf and offering the Blood He shed for us. This, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading gives us confidence of entering into the Sanctuary of Heaven, the place we could not enter until Jesus opened the way for us through the glory of His Ascension. Alleluia!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.