Week of 3 June, 2019

“Now as he blessed them, he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven”

~ Luke 24. 51 NJB ~

Easter is over. The Ascension marks the end of the season in which we remember the appearances of the resurrected Jesus to his disciples after the Crucifixion.[/vc_column_text]

But what exactly does this mean.

The language of the ascension that we read in the New Testament (notably the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles) is rooted in a particular worldview, literally. This is a view of the cosmos that was common in the ancient world. There is the Earth on which we live. Beneath the earth is the underworld – the place of the dead in ancient Jewish theology called Sheol, or the Underworld in Greco-Roman mythologies, which early Christians also sometimes described as Hell. Above the earth is the sky, above which is the firmament of stars. Beyond this is heaven, where God dwelt.

One does not need more than the basics of astronomy to know that this cosmology is wrong. Beneath the earth is the earth’s molten core; above us is the sky or atmosphere; and beyond the atmosphere of our planet is the ever-expanding universe.

Religious cosmologists would argue that God is both in and beyond this material universe in which we live. Some call this panentheism – God in everything, and everything within God. So where is heaven?

It is better for us to see heaven as not so much a geographical place as a state of being – union with God. So when Jesus ascends into heaven, it means that the risen Christ is now in union with God. He is ‘where’ he always was: the second person of the Trinity in everything, and all the universe in the Trinity.

The disciples will see him no longer. But this is good news.

It is good news because they no longer ‘cling to’ the Risen Christ but are now in him in a profound way. They are now missioned to proclaim him to the world. Whereas once they waited to see him in person, they now experience his presence in the world. The risen Christ has entered into the very depth of the universe. His disciples’ task is to acknowledge and proclaim that presence.

And what of the descendants of the disciples? Our task is to carry on their mission, proclaiming that God is still with us as we live out his teachings. Since, I suggest, the Risen Christ is in everything, and everything is in the Risen Christ, part of this mission is to care for creation itself, which is in a certain way God’s Body, the body of Christ.

 

Father, Your Son has returned to You in glory, completing his mission among us. Help us to follow in His footsteps, guided by Your Spirit. Help us to know our mission and purpose, and grant us the grace to move forward towards You, building your Kingdom here on Earth. We thank you for the gift of your Spirit that we received in Baptism and Confirmation, and for the grace of your presence to us in the Eucharist and in the Word. Help us to never forget that we are not alone, but are blessed with knowing You. Amen.

 

Catholic Parliamentary

Liaison Office

Jesuit Institute
South Africa

Reflection prepared by and

Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for spotlight.africa. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

a.egan@jesuitinstitute.org.za
See more from Anthony Egan SJ
Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ entered the Society of Jesus in 2005 and underwent the usual course of studies in his formation, which took him to such varied places as Canada, France, Ireland, Kenya, Spain, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Matthew manages the background technical aspects of much of the Institute's work and is involved in the Spirituality work whilst completing the Advanced Spiritual Directors Training Course and Spiritual Exercises Training run by the Institute. He is a member of Spiritual Directors International and is also a part-time lecturer in Sacred Scripture at St Augustine College of South Africa.

m.charlesworth@jesuitinstitute.org.za @mcharlesworth
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