Celebrating the Ascension
Relics of Buddha are found in stupas, or shrines, throughout Tibet and Sri Lanka. The grave of Confucius, founder of Confucianism, is in his hometown of Qufu, Shandong Province, China. The cave of the patriarchs in Hebron, located south of Jerusalem is believed to hold the tomb of the patriarchs and matriarchs Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah. According to early Muslim sources, Muhammad is buried in the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (“Mosque of the Prophet”) in the city of Medina in Saudi Arabia. And, of course, if you go to Jerusalem there within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, you will find what Christians have venerated for centuries as the tomb of Jesus. I’ve been there. It’s quite an experience to travel to the Holy Land–I hope to plan a parish pilgrimage there in the near future, but I digress.
There is a marked difference found in the tomb of Jesus when compared to the tombs of major Christian religions of the world. The difference is the contents of the tomb. While these other tombs and shrines contain bones and other relics, the sepulchre of Jesus is empty!
All we have left of the body of Our Lord is the casting of a set of footprints held in the Chapel of the Ascension in Jerusalem. He is not here! He has gone to the Father to prepare a place for us. The mystery of God becoming human did not cease at the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus was not a man. Jesus is a man, and at the same time he is God. The bodily Ascension of Our Lord into heaven predicts his divine plan for us. As our Church teaches:
“We firmly believe, and hence we hope that, just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives forever, so after death the righteous will live forever with the risen Christ, and he will raise them up on the last day. Our resurrection, like his own, will be the work of the Most Holy Trinity:
‘If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you.’ (Romans 8:11) The term ‘flesh’ refers to man in his state of weakness and mortality. The ‘resurrection of the flesh [the literal formulation of the Apostles’ Creed] means not only that the immortal soul will live on after death, but that even our ‘mortal body’ will come to life again.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 989-990)
Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us! His resurrection and ascension mean that we who live and die in his grace will one day share in God’s Kingdom. So let us celebrate this Feast of Ascension with great joy!