May 18, 2023
“Heaven is below our feet as well as above our heads” – Henry David Thoreau. This quote is on a plaque with a painting of flowers and leaves on the earth -- a gift from my nephew TC, his wife Ivah and their daughters, my grand nieces, Ananya, and Amina. This saying reminds me of the question “two men in white” ask the disciples who are staring at the sky after Jesus ascends to the Father in heaven. The angels inquire, “Why are you standing and looking at the sky?” These angels, God’s messengers, redirect the focus of the disciples from the leaving or departing of Jesus, the Risen Lord, to his return or coming back to them. There is also a goodbye and commissioning event in the Gospel according to Matthew. The “11 disciples” go to Galilee to the mountain that the Risen Lord has directed them. They worship and doubt. Jesus promises, “All power in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commended you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
In Acts of the Apostles, our first reading, Jesus ascends to the Father near Jerusalem. In Matthew’s Gospel, the Risen Lord says, “goodbye” on a mountain in Galilee. But in both accounts, the disciples are challenged to refocus their attention to the abiding presence of Jesus on earth. The Ascension of the Lord is the realization of the disciples that Jesus going to the Father in heaven is, at the same time, Jesus coming to them but not as before. They want the same physical closeness with Jesus that they enjoyed before he died on the cross but now they will experience his being with them as the Christ in the Church. This is the point St. Paul is making in his letter to the Church at Ephesus, to the Ephesians. St. Paul is encouraging the Christian communities to understand themselves as united with Christ and in Christ so that they might continue his work. He writes, “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened that you know what is the hope that belongs to his call.” They are called in baptism to enter the Paschal mystery (the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus), and anointed to continue his mission in the Church.
In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, Jesus tells the parable of Jesus returning as the Son of Man in glory. The nations of the world will be assembled before the great King who acts like a shepherd gathering his flock. When we inquire why we have been chosen among the “blessed,” the King will say to us, “you fed me when I was hungry; you gave me water when I was thirsty; you clothed me when I was naked, you visited me in prison; you cared for me when I was sick." We will ask, “When did we do these things for you?” He will respond, “When you did these things to the least of my sisters and brothers, you did them onto me.”
Our entry into the Kingdom of Heaven is always by God’s grace, a gift. We can hope to be at God’s side when we die when we live in and with Christ now -- caring for those most in need. Heaven is not just the end, our destination, but steps along the way.
6th Sunday of Easter