Homily by Archbishop Charles Jude Scicluna
“I am not in the world any longer but they are in the world and I am coming to you” (Jn 17:11). On the feast of the Ascension of Our Lord, these words from chapter 17 of the Gospel of John, actually bring us the fundamental message that we celebrate on this great solemnity.
“They are in the world and I am coming to you”. What is this coming to the Father? Jesus in his ascension is glorified as we say at the Creed and also at the glory to God that we pray on every solemn mass, he is seated at the right hand of the Father. The resurrection is also the glorification of Jesus Christ and this is what we are celebrating today. Because the words that he pronounced on the eve of his passion: “I am coming to you” refer to a process that starts at his passion, his death and his resurrrection.
The First Reading brings us the narrative according to Luke who actually finishes his gospel and starts his second book, the Acts of the Apostles, with the experience of the ascension. The apostles have this conviction that the Lord is not visible with them as he had been before his passion and resurrection, but he is with them. But he is taken away, he is not available as he used to be, he is now asking them to wait for the great promise which is the Holy Spirit.
But what does he tell them? “I am with you till the end of time. You are still in the world. I’m going to the Father. I am glorified” but in the Gospel of Matthew he also says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” and this is what we are celebrating today. The ascension of Jesus Christ guarantees his glorifiation but also his presence with us. “I know I am with you always, yes to the end of time” (Mt 28:20).
Now in the second reading, the apostle Paul tells us to concentrate on our beautiful destiny. “May the God of Our Lord Jeus 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; may he enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you” (Eph 1:17).
And there is a dialogue in the liturgy which explains what the Ascension means to us on a daily basis. We are celebrating a great mystery that Jesus Christ at his resurrection is also glorified, is seated at the right hand of the Father. We are also celebrating the fact that his promise is true “I will be with you till the ends of time”. But we are also celebrating our call, our hope that we be with him.
I would like to quote from a sermon preached by St Augustine on the feast of the Ascension which the Church proposes as a second reading in the Office of Readings on this feast. And Augustine, reminiscent of the dialogue that we have at the Eucharist “The Lord be with you” and that is a reminder that Jesus is with us. “And with your spirit” we answer. And then the priest at the beginning of the Eucharist says: “Lift up your hearts” and we respond: “We lift them up to the Lord”. Now Augustine, reminiscent of this ancient dialogue at the beginning of the Eucharist, says: “Today Our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, let our hearts ascend with him”. And he explains. “He is here, he is with us by his divinity because he is the Son of God made man. He is power ‘all power is given me on earth in heaven’ and his love. We cannot be in heaven” Augustine explains; “as he is on earth by divinity; we are human we are not divine, but in him we can be there in heaven by love”.
Today we celebrate the fact in the mystery of the ascension the Lord transforms our love, our friendships into a yearning for heaven and through love in Jesus Christ we are already with him. When we respond, “we lift our hearts to the Lord” we are actually responding to an invitation, which is an invitation to live ascension every day. Lift up your hearts. It is not to be concentrated or focused on heaven and not concentrate on what we do on earth. Why? Because Jesus is with us. He is with us in the mystery of the body, his body is the Church.
We know that when we love each other, we are already on the threshold of heaven.
In a dialogue with Saul who had been persecuting Christians, Jesus says: “Why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:5). He does not say ‘why do you persecute the Christians’ because whatever is done to his church, Jesus knows is done to him.
And he also in the Gospel of Matthew teaches us to meet him and his face in our brethren “Whatever you have done to the least of my brethren, you have done it unto me. I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, I was hungry you gave me to eat. I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:25). So Jesus Christ is with us by his divinity, by his power, by his love, but we are with him in this glorious mystery of the ascension through our love, through our little loves, through our great loves. We are invited to go away from our self centredness, our egoism and we ascend with him when we give our lives to our friends, when we dedicate our lives to love, the Lord is inviting us to be with him. He is with us and this is the great mystery that we are also invited to celebrate every day of our lives.
We celebrate the ascension 40 days after Easter every year and we are full of expectation for the gift of the Spirit on the 50th day after Easter, next Sunday, but we know that when we love each other, we are already on the threshold of heaven.
✠ Charles Jude Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta
First Reading: Acts 1,1-11
Psalm: 46 (47), 2-3.6-7.8-9
Second Reading: Ef 1, 17-23
Gospel: Mt 28, 16-20