The Ascension of the Lord

When I woke up this morning, I had an important question on my mind. The question had to do with today’s feast: The Feast of the Ascension. But I didn’t know how to answer the question, or even how to begin answering it. And so, I got down on my knees, bowed my head, folded my hands, and said: “Hey Google, how do you kill a zombie?” Of course, that’s not actually how it went down. I don’t actually pray to Almighty Google. I only pray to Almighty God. But I did perform that Google search. And although it wasn’t the strangest thing I’ve asked Google during this pandemic, it was definitely top-ten.

Now my question about zombies this morning was not prompted by some strange dream I had, or even by the waking dream, or apocalyptic nightmare, that this pandemic has been. It was prompted by today’s feast. You see our feast today has everything to do with a head being separated from a body, and I had some vague sense this morning that killing zombies did as well. But I needed to make sure. And Google game me that surety: Separating its head from its body is a fool-proof way of killing a zombie. But what if it wasn’t? What if a zombie could go on living even without its head? That would be deeply disturbing.

The idea of zombies, of the living dead, is indeed disturbing. But as disturbing as it is, the idea of any creature being able to go on living without its head is even more disturbing. A body without a head, a head without a body, is deeply disturbing. It’s not normal. It’s not as it should be. A head belongs with its body, and a body belongs with its head.

As it turns out—not that it should be a big surprise—the Church is just as uncomfortable as we are with the idea of a headless body or a bodiless head. As it turns out, the Church is just as convinced as we are that head belongs with its body, and that a body belongs with its head. And, as it turns out, this conviction has everything to do with the feast we are celebrating today: The Feast of the Ascension.

When I was a younger, I didn’t understand what the Ascension was all about. I didn’t understand why it mattered to me or to the Church. Why was Jesus ascending into heaven such a big deal? And why was the Ascension such a good thing, something to celebrate? After all, it seems like it would have been better for Jesus not to have returned to heaven, at least for us. It seems like it would have been better if He would have stuck around for more than forty days after His Resurrection. Why leave so soon? Why leave it all? Perhaps the apostles had some of these same questions. Perhaps you’ve had some of them as well.

The answer to these questions, as I’ve suggested, has everything to do with the conviction that the head and the body belong together. What happens to the head should happen to the rest of the body. And where the head is, there also the body should be. You see, Christ is the Head of His Body, which is the Church, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading. Christ is the Head, and through Baptism we have become members of His Body, the Church. Christ is the Head; we are His Body. And where is the Head? Christ, our Head, is in heaven. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the father. The Head is in heaven. And where the Head is, there also the Body should be.

We, the members of Christ’s Body, belong in heaven. That is where we ultimately should be. That is where we hope to be one day: to be perfectly united with Christ, our Head, in Heaven. The Ascension, then, is a feast of hope. Christ, our Head, ascends to the Father, not to leave us orphans, not to abandon us, but to prepare a place for us. Christ, our Head, ascends to the Father so that we, His Body, when our earthly pilgrimage is over, may hope to be perfectly united to him in heaven. Christ gives us this hope by his Ascension. He gives us the hope of heaven. By His Resurrection, Christ shows us what we hope to be one day: free from sin and death, radiant with eternal glory. And by His Ascension, Christ shows us where we hope to be one day: in heaven, with the Blessed Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and with all the angels and saints.

The Ascension, then, is a feast of hope. It is meant to increase our hope. It is also meant to increase our faith and our love. Now that Jesus has ascended into heaven, we can no longer see Him in the same way that the apostles did. And that may seem like a bad thing. But it’s actually not. Jesus said to St. Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29). This beatitude applies to us, and to all those who have believed in Jesus after the Ascension. Because He has ascended into heaven, because we can no longer see Jesus in the same way, we have the chance to practice and grow in our faith, which is always in things unseen. The Ascension is also meant to increase our love. Had Jesus never returned to heaven, but remained with us on earth, our love would have been more easily drawn to the things of earth rather than the things of heaven. But since the One whom we love has gone to heaven, our love can now be more easily drawn to the things of heaven. These are the three reasons St. Thomas Aquinas gives for why it was such a good thing for Jesus to ascend into heaven: to increase our faith, hope, and love (Summa Theologica III Q57.A1.R3).

That is why the Ascension matters to us and to the Church. That is why today is a feast of such great joy. Because Christ, our Head, has gone before us. And where our Head already is, we, His Body, can now believe, hope, and love to be one day.