Three Paradoxes of the Ascension
User's Guide to Sunday, May 8
May 8, 2016, is Ascension Sunday in the United States (Boston; Hartford, Conn.; New York; Newark, N.J.; Philadelphia; and the state of Nebraska’s dioceses celebrate Ascension Thursday on May 5) and Mother’s Day. Mass Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47:2-3, 6-9; Ephesians 1:17-23; Luke 24:46-53.
The Ascension shows the paradoxes of Jesus’ existence as both divine and human in a dramatic way.
The first paradox: Jesus leaves us; but Jesus remains with us.
Today’s Gospel acclamation comes from the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus says, “I am with you always, until the end of the world,” even as he is lifted up out of their sight.
When Jesus says he will be with us always, he really means it:
His real presence will be sacramentally with us in the Eucharist, and he will also truly but less substantially be with us where “two or three are gathered” in his name.
He can do that. Jesus is God; he is infinite.
The second paradox: Jesus Christ is absolutely “other” to us in distinct and distant majesty — and he is also at our level.
Today’s readings go to great lengths to paint a picture of a “far-away” Jesus.
In the Psalm, we learn “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy.” In the second reading, we are reminded that God rose Jesus from the dead, “seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power and dominion.”
God “put all things beneath his feet.” But we are also told that God “gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.”
He is high over us, and yet he is so close that we are in fact his body.
Just as there is a tension between Jesus “not here” and Jesus “here,” there is a tension between Jesus in glory and Jesus our brother, our friend. This is in fact the mystery of the God of the Old Testament. The most common names for God are “Elohim” (“The one after whom we strive”) and “Yahweh” (“He who is”).
The two names make God great and unapproachable on the one hand; here and imminent on the other.
The third paradox: Jesus accomplishes everything; and he puts everything in our hands.
The story of the Ascension is not just about the location of Jesus and the nature of Jesus; it is also the story of the operation of the Church.
Jesus tells his disciples in the Gospel, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth.”
Jesus Christ sends us out as “witnesses to him in all the earth.”
He places the Gospel in our hands. But we are in his hands, and all we can offer to others is him.
Tom Hoopes is writer in
residence at Benedictine
College in Atchison, Kansas.