Friday, 2 May 2008

The Ascension of the Lord - Year A

Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:19-20

Before he became Pope Benedict XVI Cardinal Ratzinger wrote a book called The Spirit of the Liturgy and in Chapter Two of this book he speaks of the double movement by which we come from God and then return to him. He calls it exitus and reditus - a coming out and a returning to. For most of us this is, of course, a novel idea but let's pursue it a little.

In many of the pagan cults and religions this idea was prominent. These religions conceived of creation as having its origins in the divine but not so much as a coming out from the divine as a falling down from it, a bit like a chick pushed out of its nest and falling to the earth.

In this sense we are seen as fallen humanity and our existence is already a kind of sin because it came about as the result of a disaster which now we have to redeem by somehow getting back into the nest.

Well, the Christian exitus is nothing like that. Adam and Eve's creation, their coming out of God, is not a fall, it is not a negative and it is not a sin. It is something thoroughly positive. Our creation is 'the wholly positive fruit of the divine will', as Cardinal Ratzinger says. It is due to a loving decree of God who creates us freely in freedom and dignity.

This notion of freedom is important, even crucial. God's act of creating us is an act of loving freedom, and the principle of freedom is present in our very constitution, and so we are able freely to return his love if we so choose.

So our Christian reditus, our returning to God, is a coming home along the road of freedom. Walking this road we are most ourselves because we are exercising what makes us uniquely us - our freedom. It is our free yes to God's creating love which no human being can make on our behalf.

The first step of our reditus, our return, is acceptance of our creation from the hands of God. Then we begin a loving dialogue in which we give ourselves back to him and in the process become fully ourselves.

This was the path offered to our First Parents but with catastrophic consequences Adam and Eve interrupted this free return to God by their sin of disobedience. They said no to the return. In its place they chose ego and self. They accepted their creation by God but attempted to establish themselves as his equal.

From this point on the journey back to God for all of us would be one of sacrifice and purification - of healing wounded freedom. With the sin of Adam and Eve we found ourselves bound by a knot we could not ourselves untie. We now needed a Redeemer.

Jesus came to our rescue. He came from heaven as a Man and, like the good shepherd who carried home the lost sheep on his shoulders, Jesus took our wounded and broken humanity to the Cross and ascended with it to heaven. There he placed it before the throne of God in heaven - at the feet of his Father. In this way, in his return to the Father, the pathway of our own return was opened again, the knot was undone, we were once again set free for freedom.

This is the feast we celebrate today - the feast of the healing of our reditus, of our return to the God who made us. The road was now cleared of blockages and only one gift was lacking - the gift of the Holy Spirit - who would enable us to walk faithfully in the footsteps of the Master.

The Holy Spirit would make all things possible to the disciples. As Jesus says in today's Gospel: you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.

One other important thing needs to be said here. The road the disciples were commanded to walk was the same road Jesus had walked, the road of bringing the Gospel to the world. Jesus had started the process in Galilee and its immediate environs but now, with his Ascension, the disciples (that's you and me too, by the way) were to continue this mission.
... you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth.
It is for this mission that Jesus was to send the Holy Spirit from the Father. This evangelising mission is the way of our reditus - this is the road we have to walk if we are to arrive in heaven - we have to evangelise the world.

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