Ascension of the Lord

Preached June 2, 2019

The last two Sundays, following the readings, I have spoken about the New Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from God; I also spoke about the mini-Jerusalem that is established in those who believe in Christ and in whom the Most Holy Trinity dwells. Today, we heard something about the historical Jerusalem. Jesus commissioned his disciples saying, Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Today, we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus Christ to the right hand of the Father. He sets out from the earthly Jerusalem and goes up to heaven from nearby Bethany. Entering heaven we could say he lays the foundation for the New Jerusalem that will come out of heaven with his return in glory. Meanwhile, we hear that the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God. Symbolically this characterizes the activity of the Church between Jesus’ ascension and his return in glory. Jerusalem connects Jesus’ departure to his return.

We have the historical Jerusalem, where Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead, and from where the preaching of the Gospel started on the day of Pentecost – this city still exists in the Middle East, but its present significance, centered no longer on the Temple, but on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, is to be a memorial of Jesus’ death and resurrection and a symbol of the heavenly Jerusalem.

We also have the Jerusalem that is above, where Jesus has ascended to the right hand of his Father and from where he will return in glory.

Finally, we have, we could say the Jerusalem that is now, the temple where God dwells, both the church building which houses the Body of Christ in the holy Eucharist, and the faithful Christian, living in the state of grace, who is a living temple of the Holy Spirit.

We have then three Jerusalems, historical, heavenly, and present, but one Jerusalem because united by one Jesus Christ.

By believing the apostolic preaching that started in the historical Jerusalem, the preaching about the death and resurrection of Jesus in the time of Pontius Pilate, the preaching that resounds in the Church that he established, we can become living temples of God, each one a ‘mini-Jerusalem’; this reality within us is neither static nor fully achieved, but it must grow and continually be built up and strengthened when we come to the temple of the Church and truly feed upon the Body and Blood of Christ. The transformation that is wrought within us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the nourishment of the Body of Christ leads us to the full reality of the Jerusalem that is above, where Jesus Christ has gone before us in his ascension.

A number of commentators have remarked on the strange words of the angel in today’s 1st reading: This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going. The angel did not say, “Just as he went up from you into heaven, so he will come back to you from heaven” but curiously, “he will return in the same way as you have seen him going.” Jesus will indeed return in glory and every eye will see him (cf. Rev 1:7) but in a special way he will return to the believer when the believer, in his heart, follows the same path of ascent that Jesus took before us; Jesus will return to the believer in the measure that the believer is transformed interiorly into the likeness of Christ, so to be conformed exteriorly through the resurrection of the body.

Or making use of the image of Jerusalem: in the measure that the reality of Jerusalem takes root in our soul, we will find that we have already ascended with Jesus to dwell in the Jerusalem above. The full reality of Jerusalem is already realized in Jesus Christ, who has risen from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Father. The full reality of Jerusalem is already realized in the Blessed Virgin Mary, who has been assumed body and soul into heaven and is with her Son forever.

As for us, St. Paul writes, Our citizenship is in heaven (that is in the heavenly city of Jerusalem), and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself. (Ph 3:20-21)

We received our passport for the heavenly city in our baptism; as we heard last week, the city is protected by a wall and we must enter through the gates (there will be no illegal entry). That means we have to keep our passport valid by living in a state of grace and avoiding mortal sin, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us interiorly, or we must revalidate our passport by going to confession.

In any case, we should keep in mind the words of the Psalmist: If I forget you Jerusalem, may my right hand wither. May my tongue cleave to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem beyond all my delights. (Ps 137:5-6) The Jerusalem that is above, where Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God reigns forever, is our true homeland, our goal that we must keep always in mind and never forget.

May the Lord Jesus Christ lead us by his grace to the heavenly Jerusalem. May the Blessed Virgin Mary intercede for us that we might arrive to the hour of our death with a valid passport in hand.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.

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