A middle-aged woman has a heart attack and is taken to the hospital. While on the operating table she has a near death experience. During that experience she sees God and asks if this is it. God says no and explains that she has another 30 years to live. Upon her recovery she decides to just stay in the hospital and have a face lift, liposuction, breast augmentation, tummy tuck, etc. She even has someone come in and change her hair color. She figures since she’s got another 30 years she might as well make the most of it. She walks out of the hospital after the last operation and is killed by an ambulance speeding by. She arrives in front of God and complains, “I thought you said I had another 30 years.” God replies, I didn’t recognize you.”
We are so busy doing things, achieving, making progress that we can forget what life is all about, preparing to meet God in heaven. The Ascension of Jesus reminds us that during our lives we are “only passing through” on this earth, as we say. We are pilgrims on a journey. Just as Jesus’ earthly life was temporary, and he ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father, so also our lives here are temporary, will come to an end, and we will meet God in the next life.
One thing is very clear; The Ascension of Jesus reminds us in all of our busyness not to forget what life is all about. By ascending to the Father, Jesus shows us that our life is moving upward, that despite all the pains and troubles of life, we are not ultimately descending, but ascending, that you and I are bound for glory. But we all know that our ascension doesn’t happen automatically after our death. We have to do our part to earn heaven.
The ascension which marks today’s feast is the great ascension, the one that is described in the Scriptures. But there is more than one ascension. If we reflect for a moment we should be able to identify multiple, smaller ascensions in our lives. When we realize that we can live with less, that we can live even though we do not have complete financial security, even though we do not have the same car or house that other people have, then we are not taking a step backwards; we are taking a step forwards, forwards toward joy. When we realize that not all people will like us and yet know that we still have reason to live and rejoice, that is not moving downwards; that is moving upwards, upwards to realistic living. When we realize that even though we are sick and we have to deal with pain and medical procedures, there are still people who love us and there are still more than enough reasons to live, that is not delusion; that is a small ascension, a step towards glory.
When we realize that people will hurt and betray us, but that we can still forgive them; when we realize that the people we love do at times leave us, because they need to relocate, or because of divorce, or because of death, but that leaving does not mean that our life is over; each time we realize any of these things we have undergone a small ascension.
Now these small ascensions in life are not simply a matter of willpower alone. Like the great ascension that we celebrate today, ultimately the upward movement is because of God’s power and God’s strength, not our own. But all we have to do, is to cooperate with the grace of God if you want to be with God forever after our death.
Jesus gave not only his final blessing but gave them also a missionary command to his disciples. The command was to proclaim the Good News to the whole creation,” to be his witnesses,“ and “to make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19). To be a Christian is to be a proclaimer and an evangelizer. There is a difference between preaching and proclaiming. We preach with words but we proclaim with our lives. Let us ask the guidance of the Spirit of God to bear witness to Jesus by our transparent Christian lives.
If we do so, our God will not disappoint us. We are people who know that after our death, we have been promised a great ascension. We should pray that God will grant us smaller ascensions today and every day. We should ask our Lord to lift us up above our wants and expectations, and draw us a step closer to his presence at the right hand of God.