[In the Archdiocese of New Orleans, the Ascension is celebrated today, which is why I waited until today to write a meditation on this Feast]
Christ’s Ascension means that he belongs entirely to God. He, the Eternal Son, led our human existence into God’s presence, taking with him flesh and blood in a transfigured form. The human being finds room in God; through Christ, the human being was introduced into the very life of God. — Pope Benedict XVI
All things come from God, and all things will return to God. This is an iron law, the great and inexorable movement of all existence, of all history. And in the Jewish and Christian traditions, it is humanity, fashioned by God as priest of the created order, that stands as the pivot-point between the outgoing divine gift of creation and the returning of all things in a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Creator. The final judgment of God on creation, which is another way of expressing the moment of priestly “returning,” weighs heavy on the shoulders of man; on how he stewarded the gift upward (or not) and made creation “new” by his obedience to the will of the Giver.
Of course, the whole narrative of Sacred Scripture reveals man’s “fall,” how humanity catastrophically failed in this high priestly calling. Instead of stewarding the gift upward in obedience, praying, “For Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory!”, Adam and Eve seized hold of the gift and pulled it downward in disobedience, saying, “For mine is the kingdom and the power and the glory!” Instead of consecrating the world into a Garden filled with glory and life, man desecrated the world into a Graveyard filled with shame and death.
But Sacred Scripture is also the story of God’s rescue plan, His tireless pursuit of man down the ages, calling him back to his original priestly vocation to consecrate the world by the obedience of faith working through love. But humanity, so broken by their ancient rebellion, proved unable to carry out this call faithfully and lift creation out of the Graveyard.
So God himself became man, the Giver became the gift, the Master became the steward, the One who awaited the priestly sacrifice of thanksgiving became the High Priest who Gave Thanks. In order to heal and restore the original vocation of priestly-man, God, overcome with love for creation, obediently suffered desecration, entered the Graveyard, and rose again from the Tomb as the Gardener.
And from the entrance of the open Tomb, He calls to each of us by name, cries out into our tombs, “Rise!” and bids us cleave to Him in His upward, priestly Ascension to the Father. And by filling us with the power of His Holy Spirit, He empowers us to be holy, co-consecrating earth with heaven by cultivating it faithfully, plowing it with the Wood of the Cross He has given each of us to carry.
Thus having consecrated the world as a culture of life and civilization of love, we can at last gather up our sacrifice and sing to God with the Ascending Christ a priestly song as we toil in the Vineyard: “Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all!”
The Ascension is not the exit strategy of Jesus to abandon this broken world for the glories of heavenly bliss, but His completion of what was our task from the very beginning: to receive the gift given in gratitude, and then return it to the Giver by giving it away as gift to the ungrateful.
This is why the Holy Spirit would not come to us until this cycle of giving and returning, descending and ascending was complete. The Spirit comes to restore our priesthood, and to empower us in Christ to co-create the new creation one act of love at a time.
Come Holy Spirit!