Acts 1, 1-11 + Ephesians 1, 17-23 + Matthew 28, 16-20
To move from preparing the homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter to this Ascension Day reflection, I spent a ridiculous amount of time listening to the great hymn composed by Charles Wesley in 1742, “Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise.” Before you go on I urge you to check either of these (or both) sites and listen as I have.
Sit with this text, and let yourself be caught up in the spirit of this music which with such beauty expresses what our faith holds and proclaims on this day.
As I listened, it occurred to me that there is a change in heaven being proclaimed by the Feast of the Ascension and by this salvation event. Now, because Christ has accomplished the will of the Father, heaven is different. It is changed just as much as earth was changed by the Incarnation. Now heaven is for us. It is no longer just the domain of the divine. Now in Christ we are there, and heaven is a place for us. In the same context, this earth is changed as well by what Christ has accomplished. It is no longer just the human dwelling place. It is now a place where the divine can be encountered. The Son of God comes here to change the earth, and returns to the Father to change what we call “heaven.”
This is much of what we celebrate and much of what gives us joy today. Heaven and Earth are renewed, restored, and Paradise is at hand. As the verses unfold in the hymn, our heavenward gaze shifts from the memories of the past to our hopes for the future leading us to expect with joy the return of Christ that is promised in Matthew’s Gospel. This is as much about the Church as it is about Christ. His return to the Father having accomplished the Father’s will now leaves us to do the same: accomplish the Father’s will with the assurance that heaven is where we belong since Christ himself has gone before us still calling us with the same invitation as before: “Follow me.”
Introduced now is the expectation that Christ will come again setting the scene and the mood for what our lives are like in the present. Living with this expectation of Christ’s return changes the way we perceive our relationships and our day by day lives. Readiness now marks the way we greet each day. Readiness now is the way we steward the gifts we have in expectation that the owner of the vineyard will come for an accounting. Having used those gifts for the glory of the Father, it will be a day of delight to hand over the fruits of our labor. Only those who have fearfully buried their gifts have anything to worry about. For those how live in this readiness, the joy of what is to come breaks through to silence every fear. Unlike those who fear the day, live in anxiety and expect the second coming to be a day of doom and frightening judgment, we who have bound ourselves to Christ in His death and resurrection are bound to him in his return to the Father. With nothing to fear, we stand in hope. With faith that is born in the Resurrection, we expect only a day of mercy not a day of wrath. Like the verses of Wesley’s hymn, “Alleluia” becomes the theme of our song and the style of our lives.
The commandment given in Matthew’s Gospel today expects far more than an effort to bring everyone to the font of Baptism. The command expects that we will bring this world into a relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. From that relationship springs Life and Peace, Forgiveness and Mercy. As Luke tells of this event in Acts of the Apostles, Angels are present again as they were at the beginning of his Gospel. Now their message is to us, not to the Virgin, to Joseph, or to Zechariah. Now we receive a message from on high telling us what to do and what to expect. As they gave their assent to the message of an angel, so must we, and so we GO as the angel instructs, to lead and teach in the name of Christ, to heal and forgive in the name of Christ, to reveal the Father’s mercy and love, and to live in the joyful expectation that Christ will come again.
As the final verses of Wesley’s him proclaim:
Ever upward let us move, Alleluia!
Wafted on the wings of love, Alleluia!
Looking when our Lord shall come, Alleluia!
Longing, gasping after home, Alleluia!
There we shall with Thee remain, Alleluia!
Partners of Thy endless reign, Alleluia!
There Thy face unclouded see, Alleluia!
Find our heaven of heavens in Thee, Alleluia!