June 1. 2003
There is more than one ascension. If we examine the history of our faith and our own experience, we can identify multiple ascensions. Thus it is appropriate on this Feast of the Ascension to ask ourselves what these numerous ascensions might mean. The ascension which marks today’s feast is the great ascension, the one that is described in the Scriptures. There after his death Jesus is taken up into heaven and sits at God’s right hand. This great ascension is Jesus’ final victory, when he leaves behind all of the pain and imperfections of this life and enters into glory.
The good news for you and me is that just as Jesus had a great ascension, one is promised to us. For we believe that we who are faithful to Christ after our death will ascend into the embrace of a loving God to be with Christ forever. So the good news of the great ascension is that our life is moving upward, that despite all the pains and troubles of life, we are not ultimately descending, but ascending, that you and I are bound for glory.
That is the good news of the great ascension. But there is more than one ascension. If we reflect for a moment we should be able to identify multiple, smaller ascensions in our lives. These are movements away from limitation and pain, small steps which we take towards glory. These small ascensions occur every time that you and I rise above a want or an expectation. We want a lot of things. A good deal of our energy and frustration in life is involved in trying to gain what we want. We want comfort and financial security. We want people to like us. We want good health. It is fine to want these things, but at times our desire for them is so strong, that we begin to confuse the things that we want with the things that we need. Then when any of these wants are endangered, we panic, because we cannot imagine surviving without them. But we can in fact survive without them. When we realize that we can, it is a small ascension.
When we realize that we can live with less, that we can live even though we do not have complete financial security, even though we do not have the same car or house that other people have, then we are not taking a step backwards; we are taking a step forwards, forwards toward joy. When we realize that not all people will like us and yet know that we still have reason to live and rejoice, that is not moving downwards; that is moving upwards, upwards to realistic living. When we realize that even though we are sick and we have to deal with pain and medical procedures, there are still people who love us and there are still more than enough reasons to live, that is not delusion; that is a small ascension, a step towards glory.
All of us have expectations, expectations that can at times enslave us. We expect that everybody in our family is going to understand us. We expect that people will deal fairly with us. We expect that the people we love will stay with us. But when we realize that there is nobody in our family that will completely meet our expectations, but that we still can love them; when we realize that people will hurt and betray us, but that we can still forgive them; when we realize that the people we love do at times leave us, because they need to relocate, or because of divorce, or because of death, but that leaving does not mean that our life is over; each time we realize any of these things we have undergone a small ascension—leaving behind the expectations that enslave us, taking a step towards the God who embraces us. The things we want and the things we expect can at times limit us and cause a great deal of misery in our life. But each time we can ascend above them, we take a step towards happiness, and a step closer to our final destiny.
Now these small ascensions in life are not simply a matter of willpower. We cannot ascend above our wants and expectations simply by choosing to do so. Like the great ascension that we celebrate today, ultimately the upward movement is because of God’s power and God’s strength, not our own. But we can pray for such ascensions, and we can open our hearts and minds to them.
For we believe that our God will not disappoint us. We are people who know that after our death, we have been promised a great ascension. We should pray that God will grant us smaller ascensions today. We should ask our Lord to lift us up above our wants and expectations, and draw us a step closer to his presence at the right hand of God.