ASCENSION OF THE LORD – YEAR A
The Ascension – Part of an Exodus Journey and Paschal Mystery Experience
(Acts 1:1-11; Ps 46; Eph 1:17-23; Mt 28:16-20)
Are you aware that the feast of the Ascension we celebrate today is the fifth stage of a six-stage Exodus Journey and Paschal Mystery healing experience?
This Sunday we are invited to make this healing experience our own.
Louis O. visited me one day to share his story with me: years as a drunk, sobering up, the 12 Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, 4 years as a dry drunk, recovery after starting to really work the program, and now a life of sobriety, joyous and free. His was a six-stage journey into a life of sobriety.
Louis’ story haunted me for days until it dawned on me that Louis’ story was also the story of Moses and the Chosen people: centuries of slavery in Egypt, liberation through the Red Sea, the 10 commandments on Mt. Sinai, 40 years in the desert to learn some valuable lessons, such as One Day at a Time (manna in the morning for that day only and quail in the evening) and to trust in a savior on a cross (a bronze serpent on a standard that had no poison in it). Then they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. Theirs was also a six-stage experience of God liberating them as a people.
Eventually, I realized that Louis’ story was also the story of Jesus: passion, death, resurrection, appearances to his friends, ascension into heaven and then the Pentecost event. Jesus’ story too was all about a six-stage Paschal Mystery.
What is noteworthy in this pattern is that during his appearances, Jesus was not only talking about the Kingdom of God; he was also teaching his disciples, especially Mary Magdalene, not to cling to him, but to mourn and grieve his loss. They could not have him back as he was before. They would have to have faith, let him ascend to the Father, and then receive his Spirit in a new way, the Pentecost event.
Finally, I made a connection with our story, also in six stages: we have all been hurt to a greater or lesser degree and we have all suffered loss (loved ones, language, culture, dreams, career, reputation, relationships, etc.). However, we are still here, surviving. But as it says in the Big Book of A.A., we have survived life – now we must learn to live it.
The next stage, symbolized by the appearances of Jesus, becomes mourning and grieving our losses. If we can grieve and mourn the loss of our loved ones, cry as much as we need to, accept our loss and then let them ascend to the Father, we can receive the spirit of our loved ones to be present to us in an even deeper way then when they were alive. We can also receive the spirit for any other losses we have incurred, freeing us to move on with our lives.
The Ascension that follows, then, takes on the meaning of learning how to forgive those who have hurt us in any way. We do this best by doing what Jesus suggests in Matthew 18:15 – share our feelings of anger, resentment, hatred, etc., with our abusers with love, with no expectations. By emptying ourselves of these emotions and letting them ascend to the Father, we can then receive that spirit of forgiveness that brings peace and new life into our hearts.
There we have it – for the Hebrews in Egypt, an Exodus journey of slavery, liberation, the commandments, 40 years in the desert, crossing the Jordan, and the Promised Land. For Jesus, it was passion, death, resurrection, appearances, ascension and Pentecost.
It can be said that the appearances of Jesus is unfortunately a missing mystery of our faith, skipped over in the rosary, the creed and the 3rd canon of the mass, all of which mention only the resurrection and ascension. Liturgically, we have been missing an awareness of the importance of grieving and mourning our losses so that we do not get stuck in grief and mired in emotions of sadness, self-pity and depression.
With this deeper understanding that Paul prays for in the second reading (“May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and perception of what is revealed, to bring you to full knowledge of him”), our healing journey then becomes hurt, loss, survival, grieving, forgiving and the new life of Easter. Our healing journey is both an Exodus journey and a Paschal mystery.
Someone who understood this well is Reaksa Himm, whose family was killed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in 1977. Their aim was to create a communist agrarian society without money, religion or modern technology. Many of the highly educated were executed. One day the soldiers arrested his family (his father was a teacher) and led them to a freshly dug grave. They pushed them all in and slaughtered them but somehow missed him. After the soldiers left, he spent 3 days and nights crying and grieving by the grave, and made a promise to take revenge for his family.
After one failed attempt at revenge, he escaped to a refugee camp and finally landed in Toronto, where he started a new life as a teacher, got married and converted to Christianity. He learned that the core of Christianity was forgiveness. Ten years later, he returned to Cambodia to teach and volunteer at a mental health center. It took him a year and a half of prayer for the courage and strength to face the men who killed his parents. He gave them both a Cambodian scarf and Bible as a sign of his forgiveness and blessing for them. Now he can say that he accomplished the most difficult mission of his life, to forgive, by the grace of God, those who killed his family.
The Eucharist is manna for our spiritual growth and healing through the Exodus Journey and Paschal Mystery experience. This feast is an invitation to make this spiritual journey our own, as did Reaksa Himm.