Our Prior, Fr. Joel Macul celebrated Holy Mass on Ascension Thursday. He shared these words for his homily:
Mark 16: 15–20
Today’s celebration is more than remembering another episode in the life of Jesus. Rather it is intrinsically connected with the resurrection, as is also Pentecost. Both of these feasts are part of the multi-faceted jewel that is Easter. To be understood both of them must remain in the jewel that is the resurrection.
Ascension breaks open a number of elements about Jesus. For one thing it makes clear that Jesus’ proper place is with the Father. This is given in the simple creedal phrase that he took his seat at the right hand of the Father. Any activity of Jesus comes from that relationship. At the same time, there is an element of kingship, of rule in relation to the created world. Jesus position is one of having conquered the evil that seems to run the world. His victory is proclaimed as definitive. He is pictured as above all.
There is universality in today’s feast. The universality of the resurrection is such that the risen Jesus now fills all things. Today Jesus comes to full stature. He is the ground of all that is whether of the human world or of dust of this planet or the stars. Jesus is in relation to it all. Today we acknowledge the cosmic dimension of the resurrection. The presence of the risen Jesus touches all created matter and fills it with potential. Jesus cannot limit himself to one place and one time; his very nature demands he be present to all places and all times. His ascension guarantees that.
There is a paradox in today’s feast of the ascension. On Easter we heard the angel at the tomb say, he is risen, he is not here! He is not here. When Jesus’ ascends and the disciples no longer see him, it is true: He is not here. And yet each time the story of his ascension is related, it also relates how he is still present. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is sitting with the Father and yet he is also confirming the work of the disciples as they go about proclaiming the good news. He is both with the Father and with us. He is leaving us today, but yet he is not leaving us.
Today’s celebration is about a new communion that now exists between the Father, Jesus and ourselves. There is an absence on the one hand and a form of presence on the other. That presence begins to work in our lives, the gospel says, when we are baptized. We enter into the mystery of Jesus and so experience a transformation in our lives. We enter his dying and rising and so can offer to the world a new form of presence, a presence that will make us sharers in the transformative power of Jesus love and victory over everything evil. It is symbolized in holding snakes and drinking poison.
If we do not let Jesus go to the Father, if like Mary Magdalene on Easter morning, we want to cling to him and hold him here, then he will slip from our hands and we will be holding nothing. But if today, we rejoice that he goes to the Father, then we can hold everything, then we too can become mature and reach the fullness of our lives.
Joel Macul OSB