Ascension: Christ Fully Present in Heaven and on Earth
Continuing from yesterday…
In all this, Jesus, “seated at the right hand of the Father” and reigning as the King to whom “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given” (Matthew 28:18) is curiously spoken of as “seated in heaven” yet “with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
The answer, of course, is found in the outpouring of the Spirit on the Church so that Christ remains present with us here on earth in the Church and through the sacraments—supremely the Eucharist in which he is really and truly present body, blood, soul, and divinity—while still fully present in Heaven. By his power, manifested in our mysterious union with him despite our sins and failings, we are joined with him. As he himself says, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Behold, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:20-21).
In the Ascension, the day has dawned when man is now present in Heaven—body, soul, and spirit–in the person of the Son of man, Christ Jesus. Because he is already there, we who are in him are there as well, because “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-6).
This does not, of course, mean that Christians share in his sinlessness, perfection, or glorification–yet. A quick look at the news makes that clear. Rather, it means that humanity already has a toehold in Heaven and an advocate who labors tirelessly for our redemption when we fail and fall, as we so often do.
So the other image the New Testament holds before our eyes concerning the Ascended Christ is of Jesus standing before the Father as an eternal High Priest, perpetually making intercession for us. As the Catechism (662) says:
There Christ permanently exercises his priesthood, for he “always lives to make intercession” for “those who draw near to God through him” (Hebrews 7:25). As “high priest of the good things to come” he is the center and the principal actor of the liturgy that honors the Father in heaven (Hebrews 9:11; cf. Revelation 4:6-11).
This is why the Mass is so vital, because it is our greatest encounter with the Ascended Christ, fully present in the Eucharist and eternally worshipping his Father. In that liturgy, he not only acts as our High Priest, he brings us into his work through our baptism and confirmation to participate in his work as kings, priests, and prophets as well. We become “fellow workers” with Christ, building up the kingdom of Heaven here on earth with the gifts of the Spirit poured out as the fruits of his Ascension and Pentecost (1 Corinthians 3:9).
Acting by the Power of the Spirit
This reveals the paradox of Jesus “going away” to be seated on the Heavenly Throne in Acts, the companion volume to Luke. For the gospel Luke has just written only tells us of what Jesus “began” to do and teach (Acts 1:1). His entire earthly ministry is only the spark. The Church, filled with his Spirit, is the fire and he—he himself–is now to continue his work in a way more intimate with us than it was during his earthly ministry. Biblically, to be seated is to be in repose. Not asleep. Not watching TV. Not “doing nothing.” But secure in one’s dominion. In antiquity, judges were seated. So were monarchs when they were enthroned. To say that Jesus is “seated” is to say he now reigns. To be sure, there is still work to be done. But it is in the nature of “mop up,” not in the nature of “deciding the battle.” The worst thing that could ever have happened in the universe has already happened—and God has turned it into the best thing. God has already been killed. Compared with that, everything is pretty small beer. But the death of God on the Cross has led to the life of the world. Jesus has entered on his reign. He is enthroned as King at the Father’s right hand—now.
The “right hand” was the “good” hand in antiquity. The hand that pours out blessing, the hand that holds the sceptre, the hand that works, acts, fights. The hand is the locus of action. We do not theorize with our hands, we do things. Jesus, seated at the right hand of the Father, does things. And he empowers us to do things too—by his Spirit. Thus, when Peter appeals to the crowd at Pentecost he doesn’t tell them God has poured out a concept or an idea. He has poured out “this which you see and hear” (Acts 2:33). Catholic Faith is still the same today. To be sure, we walk by faith and not by sight. But the fruit of our faith is still visible in the incarnate signs and acts of love we bear to the world. All these are poured out on us from Jesus, seated at the right hand of God the Father in a hope oriented not so much toward the future as toward eternity. For the same God we have known and know now is not going to abandon us. Rather, “Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, precedes us into the Father’s glorious kingdom so that we, the members of his Body, may live in the hope of one day being with him for ever” (CCC 666).