We take it for granted but it is beautiful to look up into the sky and see the expanse of blue.
I once saw a picture of the earth from far out in space. 99.9% of the picture was black with just a tiny sapphire of blue, our planet, in the centre. We are a little bubble of blue in a vast expanse. We use the word ‘up’ to describe that world beyond, even heaven, and ‘down’ to describe the dark interior: caves, mines and the cold depths of the oceans, even hell. But in reality, neither heaven nor hell is up or down. We are spiritual beings and we inhabit a real world of which our beautiful planet is just the entrance gate, not the full picture.
We have to go through that gate but things will be very different when we do. We have no idea what they will be like. ‘No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.’ (1Cor 2:9). Both the first reading for the celebration of the Ascension and the last use this language of ‘up’. It is a convenient and accessible way for us to understand that after his resurrection from the dead Jesus returned to the Father. But we know that ‘my Father’s house’ is not somewhere ‘up there’ but the opening into the fullness of the reality we only faintly grasp in this life of preparation of ours.
The second reading, from Ephesians, probes this theme;
‘May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and perception of what is revealed, to bring you to full knowledge of him.’
The writer fails to put into words what this ‘full knowledge’ might be and so he asks God to give us the ‘wisdom and perception’ to grasp it ourselves, however dimly. Teilhard de Chardin says somewhere, ‘we are not bodily beings with a spiritual nature, but spiritual beings with a bodily nature’. He puts the emphasis on the spiritual. This celebration of the Ascension, perhaps more than any other, reminds us of this. The spirit is not ‘up’ or ‘down’ or limited to any place or time like the body is. Death opens the way to infinity. But it is not a dry ‘world without end’ kind of infinity. It is the infinity of love and happiness.
Surely, that is consoling. But we can’t stand there ‘gazing up to heaven’ (Acts 1:11). We have things to do. So, ‘from the Mount of Olives they went back to Jerusalem’ and began the great work of which we are part today.
9 May 2021 The Ascension Acts 1: 1-1 Eph 1:17-23 Mk 16:15-20