I find it strange that Luke should tell us in our gospel today that, as soon as Jesus left them and ascended back to His heavenly Father, his disciples, his best friends on earth, should immediately go back to Jerusalem with great joy, and there, in the Temple, they could be found, continually blessing God. It just sounds so heartless on their part. Were they really so glad to see the back of Jesus that they spent all their time blessing God for taking him away from them? I know that if, the moment I left someone’s house, all the household would start rejoicing and thanking God, that I would be very upset and angry. Were the apostles really so happy to see Jesus go?
No, of course not. Jesus himself said to his friends before he left them: ”If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father “(that was in last week’s gospel, the gospel of John). He also told them: “It is a good thing that I am leaving you now, because then I can send to you the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to be with you forever (John 16: 7). His disciples were to understand that, in letting go of Jesus’ physical presence on earth, they would be able to lay hold of another kind of presence of Jesus, a spiritual one, a dwelling of Jesus actually within them, through his holy Spirit. And that presence would never leave them, unless they drove him out through mortal sin.
How else to make sense of that paradox that Jesus gives his disciples, in last week’s gospel “I am going away, and I am coming to you”? While Jesus still remained in his human body, he was still limited in what he was able to do and where he was able to go. He could not share himself out amongst all his disciples throughout the world. But now he has become spirit, he is able to dwell within each one of us and be our advocate, this comes about through our baptism, of course. It is amazing how often I find the Scriptures pointing to the importance of Christian baptism. Take our second reading today, for instance, from St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. There Paul paints a magnificent picture of the power and glory that is Christ’s, and which is also ours, as Church, because we are filled with the fullness of Christ, and in Christ dwells the fullness of the Godhead, of the Trinity. As Colossians 2:9 says: ”In Christ the fullness of God dwells bodily”. Do you understand, brothers and sisters, do you get it, really, really get it? Within me, within each one of you the fullness of the life of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwells, in so far as our limited humanity can accommodate them. Because of our baptism, which make us sharers of the divine nature, in the words of St Peter’s second letter (1:4).
It seems clear that many of the members of the Christian community in Ephesus did not get it, did not really, really get it, the crucial importance of their baptism. Sad to say, I fear that many Catholics fail to grasp the significance of this sacrament and why it is so crucial that their children be baptized as soon as possible after they are born. That is why Paul prays in our second reading that his readers have “the eyes of their hearts enlightened” so that they get it, they really, really get it. And get it with their hearts, not just their heads. Many of us understand, from our Catholic upbringing, the many blessings that our baptism brings us: eternal life, forgiveness of sins, a heavenly inheritance, new birth as sons and daughters of God, etc. But we grasp that, if we grasp it at all, merely with our heads. Paul wants us to get it, to grasp it, with our hearts, so that we are set on fire with this incredible truth, which makes us cry out in awe-struck wonder: ”WOW!! That is incredible!” Because of our baptism, the whole of heavenly glory is opened up to us. Paul declares, in Colossians 1:27, that “Christ in us, dwelling within us, “by reason of our baptism, is our “hope of glory”.
Do you have the hope of sharing fully in the glory of heaven, brothers and sisters? Do you realize that heaven now becomes your glorious inheritance, according to our second reading? Your glorious inheritance, in other words your divine inheritance of heavenly glory. That glory is already within you, hidden with Christ in God, in the words of Colossians 3:3. And that verse goes on to say, “when Christ, our life, is revealed – at the end of human history – you and I “will also be revealed in our glory”. How does that come about, you ask? Through our baptism. Through the work of the Holy Spirit of God. Now do you understand why it was so good and important that Jesus left the Church on earth, and went back to his Father in heaven? So that he could send us the Holy Spirit, to make us sons and daughters of God, and sharers in the divine nature and glory of God. The Spirit, Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians (1:13-14), the Spirit is the pledge, or, or guarantee, of our divine inheritance. He is the down-payment, the first instalment of the heavenly glory that is waiting for us when we die. That is why Christ’s mission on earth did not finish at his death on the cross, nor at his resurrection, nor with today’s feast, his Ascension. Jesus’ work on earth is only accomplished when, having risen and ascended to heaven and sat down at his Father’s right hand, the place of glory, he receives the gift of the Holy Spirit, and pours it out on his Church. That is why next week’s feast, Pentecost, not todays’ feast of the Ascension, is truly when Jesus can say “It is finished”
One other thing that St Paul prays for , in our second reading today, apart from that we have a spirit of wisdom and revelation to grasp hold of the hope of heavenly glory to which God has called us, is for us to realize also how much power God has exerted on our behalf. The same power, says Paul, that God put forth, to reach down and seize Jesus from the grasp of death and raise him up to heaven, to sit at his right hand, that same power God has unleashed for us, in reaching down to free us from the grip of sin and Satan and hell and raising us up to eternal life in heaven with him and with Jesus. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he puts this so well when he says: “God is so rich in mercy, out of the great love that he has for us, when we were spiritually dead because of our sins, he made us alive together with Christ, and raised up with him, and seated us with him in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 2: 4-6). It wasn’t enough for God to just raise up his beloved son, Jesus. No, he wanted to raise us up with Jesus as well, and seat us with him at his right hand. This means that God, who is outside of time, reached into time to deliver us from the spiritual , eternal death of our sin, and bring us up out of time to be with him forever. As far as God is concerned, when he looks down at us here on earth, he sees us, in his mind’s eye, as it were, already with him in glory. The rest of it, the living out our lives here on earth to their appointed end, is mere detail. “God has already destined us”, says Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians, (5: 9) “for salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ”. When did he so destine us? At our baptism, when he reversed the curse of the original sin we inherited from our first parents and endowed us with the Spirit to make us his sons and daughters and made us fit for heaven. God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is far, far more anxious for us to join him with heaven, than many of us are to go there. Love and mercy define the nature of God and impel him to want us to be saved. As Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:4: ”God earnestly desires that all people be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” – the Truth who is Jesus (John 14:6). All people, you notice. Not just some.
However, unfortunately, it does not seem that all people want to be saved; they don’t appreciate the riches of the glorious inheritance that is theirs because of the power and love of God for them, do not appreciate the incredible gift of their baptism. Which is why Paul prays today in our second reading, and no doubt prays, together with all the saints already in heaven, that we have the eyes of our hearts enlightened to this incredible truth, and we get down on our knees and thank God for our parents, or whoever’s it was, decision to have us baptized. Despite the truth of the heavenly riches that are now offered to us, those riches and blessings of our baptism can be bound up, because of our lack of faith-filled understanding. We can fail to take hold of that inheritance through our laziness, self-centeredness, and lack of faith. It is rather like a person, who is heir to a billion dollars left him in his father’s will, and yet can’t be bothered to go and claim it and so misses out on gaining it. It is still there, waiting for him, but he is too lazy to fill out the necessary forms, provide the required identification, and so never comes to acquire it. We, through our own spiritual blindness and carelessness, can end up in the same boat with regards to our inheritance of glory. Let us pray, really pray, the prayer of Paul’s second reading ….