The Nearness of God

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul
Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, 02 June 2019
Acts 1:1-11 >< }}}*> Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:19-23 >< }}}*> Luke 24:46-53
The Chapel of the Ascension believed to be the site where Jesus stood before ascending into heaven while his disciples looked at. Photo by author, 04 May 2019.

Outside the old city of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives is the Chapel of the Ascension believed to be the site of Jesus Christ’s Ascension into heaven. Though the octagon-shaped structure is massive and very high, it is quite small inside with just one door for entrance and exit. Immediately upon entering that door on the floor is a framed slab of stone called the “Ascension Rock” venerated by pilgrims because that is where Jesus stood before going up to heaven.

The Ascension Rock. Photo by author, April 2017.

But personally, in the two occasions I have been there in 2017 and last month, my focus have always been more on the four windows of the chapel’s dome.

The rays of light coming through them have always evoked in me the beauty of Christ’s Ascension with a feeling that is so uplifting. The morning rays of the sun gently filling the room with light warms your heart as if angels are keeping you company like what we heard from the first reading during the Ascension of Jesus.

A window at the dome of the Chapel of the Ascension. Photo by author, April 2017.

As I prayed this week on the meaning of the Solemnity of the Ascension by recalling my two pilgrimages to the Holy Land in the light of our readings today, it is only now have I realized that the key to this feast is not found in looking up to the skies or looking down on where Jesus stood before going up to heaven.

It is in looking more into our hearts, looking deep inside us can we truly find the meaning of the Ascension of the Lord.

This feast is an invitation to get inside our hearts, not just into our minds and imagination to appreciate the words of Jesus Christ these past two Sundays about his “going and coming in a little while” (Jn.13:31, 33;14:25;16:16,20).

Remember how Jesus these past two weeks kept on speaking about his leaving and his coming at the same time? Of how we reflected last Sunday that in life, we do not really leave but simply come into new level of existence and new level of relating with God and with others?

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.

Luke 24:50-53

Normally, it is sadness that we feel most in every leaving and departures: when kids leave home to pursue college somewhere, when a father or a mother leaves abroad to work over a long period of time, or a beloved dies. Though the cliche may be right sometimes that “parting is such a sweet, sweet sorrow”, the fact remains there is always sadness whenever we leave or somebody leaves us.

That is why St. Luke’s account of the Ascension is strange when he tells us that Christ’s disciples “then returned to Jerusalem with great joy” after the Ascension. St. Luke does not give any hint or a tinge of sadness among the disciples when Jesus left them to sit at the right hand of God almighty Father in heaven. And, the Holy Spirit has not come down yet. Where did the disciples get this great joy after Jesus had left?

Detail of a 15th century Greek Orthodox icon of the Ascension of Christ with Mary so calm while the apostles very animated, eager to proclaim the gospel. From Google.

We do not have the details at how this great shift happened that the disciples were filled with great joy after Ascension but, the Scriptures and the stories of the saints as well as those of some true heroes provide us with some answers and reasons.

According to St. Luke as well as the other evangelists, Jesus came to see his disciples for many days (40 according to Luke) after Easter. The Lord taught them with some more lessons preparing them for his coming Ascension. Most of all, Jesus made his disciples experienced his new mode of presence in his glorious body. He showed them his wounds and dined with them so often to convince them that he had really risen.

In all instances of his appearances, there was always joy among the disciples. Slowly, the disciples’ joy in knowing Jesus is risen deepened into great joy at the Ascension when this truth sank deeper into their hearts too that they have finally and truly accepted Jesus is alive!

When a truth or a reality stays only in our minds, that is always open to doubts. But, the moment that truth or reality we know is brought down to our hearts, that is only when we truly accept it as really true. And that is when we are filled with great joy because we are already convinced without any doubts of the truth or reality we have received.

Saints and heroes alike find great joy in their sufferings and death because of their convictions in their hearts that what they knew in their minds are very true. They lead “authentic” lives because what they knew in their minds was what they felt in their hearts that they eventually say and do. It is only in authentic living can we find great joy in living, no matter how painful or difficult it may be.

15th century Greek Orthodox icon of the Ascension. From Google.

And that is the great joy in the Ascension of Jesus Christ: the disciples, like us, start living authentically because we are deeply convinced that the Lord had not left us but had in fact launched a new level of nearness with us. His Ascension is the finality of the redemption he had won for us coming right into our hearts when we realize that Jesus did not simply die and rose again for a nameless mass of people. He did everything personally for each one of us.

This is what social media can never give us. Despite its great popularity, social media have left many of us still sad and even sick with various forms of mental illnesses. Everything that happens in the Net often remains up in our heads, rarely sinking into our hearts that still keep us apart despite our connections.

In his message for the 53rd World Communications Sunday we also celebrate today, Pope Francis invites us to connect deeper into the human community and not just in social network communities. The Holy Father stresses that interconnection must go down into personal encounters in the flesh, not just in virtual reality, calling for a shift from “likes” to “amen”.

Poster by Kendrick Ivan Panganiban.

How ironic that all these modern means of communications were invented to bring us all closer together but it seems the opposite is happening. We are growing apart and have become more impersonal than ever! We are all guilty of so often clicking the “like” button without having read the complete post or seen the photos of our relatives and friends. We rarely take time to “process” what we read and see on Facebook by people we call “friends” who often number to thousands. What an inauthentic way of living!

The Ascension of the Lord is a call to authentic living as it launched a new level of nearness of God with us and us with him and with one another. Unlike in the Old Testament as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews explained, Jesus did not enter a sanctuary made of human hands, referring to the old Temple worship that was never complete due to human imperfections. When Jesus came and went through his pasch, he brought God closest to us. We can rise up or ascend to his new level of relationship, new level of existence by rising up also from our infirmities and limitations in him who dwells in our hearts. A joyful month of June to you! Amen.

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