Sunday, June 01, 2014

Heaven's above?

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Sunday after the Feast of the Ascension 2014 

 It’s a fact that many people on the street don’t know what happened to Jesus after the Resurrection. They know of the Baby Jesus at Christmas and they may know roughly what Easter is all about, though even this is not certain these days. Mention the other feasts of the Lord such as the Epiphany (which they might know as Twelfth Night), the Transfiguration or the Ascension, and many people on the streets of Britain will not have a clue. Is this their fault? Not if they haven’t been taught about these things. So whose job is it to teach them?


Many Christians, too, find themselves confused about the events in the Lord’s life, especially as some Churches have re-invented meanings. However, the Ascension of Our Lord is not something that is readily spoken of, despite it, like the other events in the life of Our Lord, is of vital importance to understand. In writing the Acts of the Apostles, St Luke gives a detailed account of the Ascension into Heaven. “And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.”

Yes, that’s it!

That’s the Ascension in its entirety. St Mark is the only other Biblical writer to catalogue the Ascension and that is with the words, “So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.” Compared with Elijah being carried up into Heaven by a whirlwind, this seems positively tame, undramatic and an abrupt end to Our Lord’s ministry. Is this why the Ascension is so understated, because Christians themselves find it a bit difficult to explain without seeming a bit silly?


Christians do have to be a bit careful here. Our Lord ascends into Heaven, but this does not mean that Heaven is in the sky as many people seem to think. Indeed, the Bible shows us quite clearly that Heaven is not really somewhere we could call a place. It’s not like London, it’s not like Europe, it’s not like a planet out there in some far distant galaxy. Heaven is where God can be seen, and where Our Lord Jesus can be seen at His right hand. Yet God is always with us, and we’re not in Heaven, are we? In his Revelation, St John the Divine reminds us that our concepts of heaven and earth will evaporate.

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold , the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful”

It’s truly difficult to say what Heaven is because it is somehow where God dwells with us and yet is not somewhere to which we can point. We can only see through a glass darkly. St Paul tells us that the imperfect vanishes when the perfect comes, and this is the key to understanding what Our Lord’s Ascension is about and what it means for us.


As we’ve found out before, Our Lord Jesus cannot be perfect until He has died on the cross. When He rises from the dead, we know that He has a physical body like ours, yet that can do extraordinary things such as appear in locked rooms, bear the wounds that killed Him, eat, drink and ascend into Heaven. This is the body that He promises us.

“For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.”
In appearing to us after the Resurrection, the Lord is showing us that our lives as they are now are important and to be cherished Our lives now form the seeds for our transformation into heavenly bodies. This is why the ascension of the Lord seems to be an anti-climax – it is simply not the end of Christ’s presence with us, but rather the beginning of seeing Christ’s eternal presence with us. It is because He has ascended that He can be present with us all our lives. It is because He has ascended that he can be really present in the Holy Eucharist, for the Holy Eucharist brings us into Heaven, even if our senses cannot really take that in. We see through a glass darkly.


We can be assured that, by following Christ all the days of our lives, we will too end up in Heaven with Him where He is preparing us a place-to-be. That place-to-be begins with us here and now, yet can we really hope to comprehend it?

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