HOMILY ASCENSION SUNDAY – C
Living the Paschal Mystery
(Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Heb 9:24-28, 10:19-23; Luke 24:46-53)
Have you ever heard the saying, “Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved?”
Have faith in Jesus – live the Paschal Mystery and experience the Ascension in your life.
I once misquoted that saying in a homily, coming out with just the opposite: “Life is a problem to be solved, not a mystery to be lived.” The irony is that the only person who seemed to notice was the organist in the front pew who had to restrain herself from laughing.
The feast of the Ascension is only one of six distinct moments of the Paschal Mystery – Passion, Death, Resurrection, Appearances, Ascension and Pentecost.
The least known and most often ignored of these is the Appearances of Jesus to his disciples. This could be called the missing mystery. We skip over it when we recite the Creed (Jesus rose from the dead … and ascended into heaven). We omit it when we pray the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary (Resurrection … Ascension and Pentecost). It is also omitted when we pray the third Eucharistic prayer, when the presider says the words, “his wondrous Resurrection … and Ascension into heaven.” Finally, unlike the Ascension, we don’t have or celebrate a feast of the Appearances in the liturgical year.
That omission is unfortunate, because of its relevance for us today. The Appearances of Jesus are a time of healing and grieving. In the garden Jesus was teaching Mary Magdalene to let go, to let him ascend to the Father. “Do not cling to me” is what he told her. She could not have him back the way she had him before. He was the same Jesus, yet he had changed. He would never die again, and that eternal life is what he wants to give to us, if we can also let go of that which holds us back from receiving it. Our grief over any loss in our lives must turn into good grieving, mourning, and letting go, giving back to God that which we want to cling to, so that we can be open to the newness of the Spirit God wants to give us in Jesus. We are called to live and experience the Appearances and the Ascension as a mystery of faith.
Someone who understood and lived this mystery is Velma. She was sexually molested as a teenager. The trauma of that incident left her with such shame that she gave up her dream of becoming a religious sister. She became an alcoholic and struggled in her marriage. When her youngest child took a Search (a weekend retreat for youth), she realized how her secret burden had affected her children. She accepted my invitation to her to go on a healing journey that would take her through her own personal Paschal Mystery.
Her suffering was her Passion; the loss of her dream was her Death; her survival was her Resurrection, but she learned God wanted more than a survivor full of anger, guilt and resentment – God wanted to give her peace, joy and freedom. She was being invited to live the mystery of the appearances of Jesus and experience ascension in her life. She learned to remember her past instead of block it out; to relive the hurtful events; to feel the feelings and share them with others. She learned the importance of dealing with her past, of grieving and mourning her loss. That was the Appearances for her. Then she was invited to write out her painful feelings with love (no revenge or name-calling) and share them with her abuser as a way of forgiving him and letting go of anger and resentment, sadness and shame. That was for her, Ascension. And she was set free to move on with her life.
She now has a deeper understanding, a new image of whom God is for her, a “Messiah who suffers.” She learned that Jesus does not prevent our pain, but rather shares it with us and gives us the love to deal with it and heal it through repentance and forgiveness. She came to truly trust in this power from on high, the Holy Spirit, the agent of forgiveness, and now experiences the reign of God in her life, the peace and joy that only God can give.
We can ask ourselves – where are we at in this process of living the Paschal Mystery? Are we carrying spiritual garbage from past hurts? Are there buried emotions of anger and resentment, sadness and self-pity, shock and shame, guilt and fear in our lives? It is by going back, facing and dealing with our past hurts and losses, and finding Jesus there in that past, that we will be able to grieve, heal, let go, and experience Ascension. We will receive the Spirit of new life from our God who suffered with us, touches and heals our wounds, and walks with us through our own Paschal Mystery to a new life of freedom, peace and joy.
In short, the Ascension signifies our humanity has been elevated, raised above the highest angels and spirit beings in the heavens. We already share in God’s glory, through faith in Jesus and the experience of the Ascension in our own lives through faith.
Corbin Eddy offers an interesting insight. By being gathered into a cloud, Jesus is not so much going upas he is going aheadof his apostles into glory. The issue is not where Jesus was or is, but where he is sending them, clothed with power from on high. The direction is not down or up, but out. They are no longer only hearers of the word, but its heralds. The issue is not so much our faith in Jesus, but Jesus’ faith in us. The mystery of the Ascension invites us, even in our shakiness, not so much to believe in God, but to believe that God believes in us. In other words, we must not get stuck looking down in discouragement, or looking up in bewilderment. Staff in hand, mantle around our shoulders, we can look out and step forward with grace and courage.
The Eucharist is itself an appearance of Jesus to us, as real as his appearances to the Apostles. It is an experience for us of acceptance, love and forgiveness that empowers us to do same, to let go, and experience the Ascension which leads to living Pentecost each day of our lives, in peace and joy.
So, remember, life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved. Have faith – live the Paschal Mystery and experience the Ascension in your life. May God bless us all.