A Short Reflection on the Feast of the Ascension

When I was a child, I celebrated the feast of the Ascension by imagining Jesus like a space rocket launched into heaven. To this day there is an operative image of Jesus shooting straight up in the air, as if he took one big jump on the trampoline of earth and catapulted into the glory of God. Such an image of course presumes there is a place “up there” to which Jesus ascended. Modern Cosmology and quantum physics belie such a place distinct from earth, but modern science does not seem to make a difference to the well-worn images of Christian belief.  Much (if not all) of our devotional language is tied to ancient pictures of the cosmos; no one seems to mind the fact that it is impossible to “ascend” in an open, unfinished universe; however, one can transcend by going beyond one’s present state toward an infinite future fullness of life. Maybe transhumanism is a way of understanding the Ascension of Christ.Today, transhumanists want to overcome biological limits of disease, suffering and death through technological means.  In their view, religion has run its course and technology can now fulfill what religion promises.

Teilhard de Chardin did not think that technology could replace religion but he did anticipate that technology could link us together in a more united way of thinking, loving and acting. He called this new state, “ultrahumanism” and thought technology could play a vital role in linking minds and hearts together; however, this forward movement toward greater unity requires an “ascension” of consciousness or the inner movement of centering the mind in the heart. One cannot ascend to God without descending into the place of the eternal within, which means to get beneath the many layers of stuff we pile into our minds and hearts, stuff that suffocates the breath of the Spirit and the light of Truth. Teilhard indicated that contemplation maximizes consciousness, and the expansion of consciousness is the liberation of self from self.

The Ascension marks the culmination of the Easter message. In his Letter to the Colossians Saint Paul writes: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God; think of what is above, not of what is on earth” (Col. 3:1-2). The language of “above” and “not what is earthly” has created a consciousness of dualism:  heaven and earth; body and spirit; God and world. But the ascension of Christ is not about a heavenly rocket ship launched into heaven, it is about our humanity now permanently inserted into the life of God in and through Jesus Christ. We have become a new creation, and God has become new as well. Heaven is earth’s openness to its completion in God.

Bernard of Clairvaux spoke of three comings of Christ, the first coming of Christ at his birth, his second coming of at the end of time and a third coming of Christ, into our midst, into our hearts, each day. The ascension of Christ is the third coming of Christ; in this Big Bang universe, Christ is always emerging in us as we seek to grow in love. Jesus’ ascension into heaven conveys to us a new reality, that our humanity is fulfilled in God, and God is fulfilled in us, as Jesus proclaimed: “I am with you always, until the end of time” (Matt 28:20).

The humanity of Jesus is our humanity; hence, Jesus is the Christ and we too are the Christ. We ascend to God when we descend into the truth of our lives where the Spirit of God dwells in love. When we live from this center of Truth, Christ is born in us over and over again, so that the whole paschal mystery forms the evolution of our lives. To ascend with Christ does not mean we are to “go up” but to “go down” into the depths of our lives, to live from a center of humility, to accept the truth of each moment gifted by the power of God’s love. To think of “what is above,” of what is heavenly, is to think out of a deeper center of consciousness, not a consciousness of the isolated self but a consciousness of deep interconnectedness, and to realize that heaven begins here on earth when we realize that we are bound together in the unity of God’s ever-flowing love. To attain this unity in love amidst the chaos of world is to ascend with Christ.

 

 

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