The ascension of Jesus into eternal glory, some 40 days after his resurrection and 10 days before the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, can feel like the ‘poor cousin’ of Easter events. It has its special day—today—in the feasts of Easter, but it only gets this day’s mention and is then passed over rather quickly. Yet the Ascension is of critical importance for us in receiving the full story of Christ’s death and resurrection, and the unfolding implications of it. We will benefit in the retelling of this story.

It goes back to our human genesis at creation. In the beginning, God created man and woman, in his image and likeness, and God saw that our creation was very good. In our human genesis, God poured into our humanity his divinity. Our existence was God-like. But in the Fall of our first parents, that divine likeness became separated from our human existence. God did not cease to pour out himself into each generation. Rather, the divine–human exchange became a one-way street. God gave out, but we did not return.

That is, until God sought to bridge the divide and heal the wound of separation. Out of love, God gave us his only Son, who became one of us. In the Incarnation, one human life was reunited with the divine life. That one human life would die a gruesome human death so that each other human life could see what was also possible for them.

But here’s where one crucial step needed to be taken. The risen Christ had saved us; the bridge back to God for all humanity had been built. But it then needed to be crossed, first by Christ, so that where he has gone, we might follow. This is what happened at the ascension of Jesus: he took our humanity, and us with him, back into our divine origin.

Because of Christ’s ascension, God has a body now, a human body, with all its wounds from the crucifixion now gloriously present in the divine life of the Trinity. What had been given out to humanity in creation was now given back to God in the ascension. We needed this to happen; otherwise it would have been only one human body to have bridged the divide. But once one human person had done this, then all humanity could share in the healing.

St Mark’s account of Christ’s ascension captures this well, when he notes: ‘[Jesus] was taken up into heaven, … while [the disciples], going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them.’ Similarly, St Luke also plays on the sense of human–divine ‘exchange’ that took place at the ascension: ‘Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, this same Jesus will come back in the same way as you have seen him go there.’

St Paul then offers the implications of the gift that goes with this exchange, when he said, ‘[t]here is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called.’ Let that last word of Paul’s sink in: the ascension of Jesus opened up for us the call to hope. Our destiny is not that of our first parents, and our original Fall from grace and from God. Our lives do not need to end in hopelessness. In Christ’s ascension, we have been called to the hope that we may all return to the fulness of life in God. For as our prayer commencing Mass says,

where the Head has gone before in glory,
the Body is called to follow in hope.

Banner image: Giotto, The Ascension, c. 1305, Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel, Padua, Italy.