24 May 2009 - Fr Terry Tastard

Holy Trinity Church

Holy Trinity Church

It is interesting how the ordinary English that we use, speaks the language of ascension. If we find ourselves encouraged by the words of another person, we might say that we have been uplifted. If we are going through a difficult patch we try to rise above our troubles, because we want to get things in perspective. Conversely, our spirits sink or we feel downcast. If things improve then we are light-hearted or buoyant. It seems that we often express hopefulness, joy and inner freedom with the language of being lifted up. The supreme symbol of this must be the ascension itself.

As our gaze follows Jesus upwards, we are reminded that God has turned back sin and defeated evil. Looking at the ascended Christ, we remember that our ultimate home is in eternity. The pain and suffering of this life are real, but looking on Christ ascended we remember that in heaven our troubles and sorrows will be healed by the unsurpassable experience of God's love shining upon us. And yes, from this perspective, it becomes a little easier to tackle life’s problems or to find a way through them.

The image of the Ascension also reminds us that heaven is not a remote reality, but one that affects life here and now. The ascending Christ is a living link between this world and the hidden world of eternity, which is much closer to this world than we often realize. From eternity come God's gifts of grace, shaping and inspiring this world. In eternity the prayers of the saints rise for this world, joining our prayers as we ask that God’s will may be done and his kingdom come, on earth as in heaven. To eternity and therefore to God’s love we commend our departed loved ones, feeling in some way that although they are gone they are with us still. No wonder the Ascension lifts us up and fills us with hope and wonder. It is a reminder that there is much more to reality than this world. There is more than we
can see and touch and hear.

This is why it is important that we do not read the Ascension as a sign of Christ's departure from this world. Certainly it brings to an end the ministry of the incarnate Lord, at one place in space and time. But it means that the same Lord is now to be found everywhere, always, wherever people turn to him in their hearts and reach out to him in prayer. This is why the writer of the letter to the Ephesians tells us today that the presence of Christ 'fills the whole creation' (1.23, alternative reading). The life and witness of the Church makes visible the invisible presence of Christ, who is not gone from us but rather is gone from our sight, so that he can now be there for all people. This is why the gospel ends with
that wonderful dual affirmation. We hear that Jesus takes his place in heaven at the right hand of God.

But we are also told that when the disciples go out and preach everywhere, they find ‘the Lord working
with them and confirming the word’ (Mark 16.20). Heaven is not a remote place light years away. It is an ever-present reality, hidden from us, but constantly breaking into this world wherever Christ is made known and his presence is felt. His people are here and he is with them.

Fr Terry Tastard is Parish Priest of Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, Brook Green, London W6.

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