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Homily: “On Ascensiontide”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sunday after Ascension Day, 2018.

We come together today in the short but holy period of Ascensiontide, the concluding moments of the Easter season. God has exalted His only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to His kingdom in heaven. We observed and celebrated that great feast three days ago. It is indeed a great feast because the reality it celebrates we profess in the Creed of the Church: “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the Right Hand of the Father.” The presence of Jesus had been local in time and space—as He walked on the ground, as He talked in specific places, as He sat at table with disciples and followers—a local presence. Even as He appeared to the disciples after His Resurrection, these appearances remained local occurrences of the divine, where the separation between heaven and earth indeed had been torn open.

The resurrection appearances of Jesus taught the disciples and apostles about the Eucharist, where in a specific place and time, and with specific words and actions, the local has a window into the divine. And yet the promise Jesus made at the institution of the Eucharist in the Last Supper remained to be fulfilled. Saint Mark captures Jesus saying these words: “I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” And so the Ascension of Jesus to heaven seals the Eucharist. As we eat bread, the fruit of the earth, and drink the wine, the fruit of the vine, according to the pattern Jesus taught, we are eating and drinking His very body and blood, body and blood which are in heaven, sharing in the cup that Jesus Himself is drinking in the kingdom of God: the cup of His passion.

It was this recognition of the nature of the Eucharist, along with the direct experience of the Ascension as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Ezekiel in the first chapter of his book, that drove the apostles and disciples and the Mother of Jesus back to the Upper Room after the Ascension to be together and devoted with one accord to prayer—ten days of prayer that undoubtedly included the first celebrations of the newly instituted Eucharist, daily prayer morning and evening, singing of Psalms—quite possibly singing the same Psalm 47 we ourselves celebrate today, celebrating how God has gone up with a shout, and that God is King of all the earth. And with the Eucharist and daily prayer was undoubtedly devotion to the Sacred Humanity of Christ through prayerful sharing of the disciples’ experiences with Jesus, discovering and rediscovering how the Word spoken through the prophets had been made flesh and now, through His ascension, had become universally available—any locality, any place, could be the occasion for the real presence of Jesus: any where that celebrates the Eucharist according to the pattern taught and demonstrated by Jesus.

And so together in prayer, the apostles, disciples and Blessed Mary awaiting with tremendous joy and prayerful expectation the promise of the Father. They awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus said the Father would send in His name, for He, the Holy Spirit, will teach all things, and bring to remembrance all that He, Jesus, had said to them. They had remembered the words of Jesus captured by Saint John, words we hear today. “Holy Father,” Jesus said audibly to those around Him, “keep them in Thy Name, which Thou has given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” The mystery of those words is captivating. And yet the promise of those words is more astonishing. That they—the disciples, those who delight in His will and walk in His ways; those who keep His words—may be one, even as we are one. What an incredible prayer by Jesus: that His disciples may share in a oneness that in no way is different than the oneness between the Father and Jesus. And this sharing in oneness is an actual participation in the oneness between Father and Son—this oneness of love, this oneness of peace.

The disciples gathered during these days remembered Jesus saying “For their sake I consecrate myself; that they also may be consecrated in truth.” To be consecrated is to be set aside, literally “to be made sacred with”—that is, to be made sacred with God, sharing and participating in His sacredness, His holiness. Christians ever since have seen themselves set apart from society in holiness of life, to be agents of peace within their villages, towns, and cities. Jesus gave Himself for us, emptied Himself for us, with the express purpose and desire that those who follow Him would see it as their duty to live consecrated lives that work to spread peace even in the smallest ways: for nothing is small to God.

And Jesus prayed to the Father: “Sanctify them in the truth.” To be sanctified is to be made holy through the process of being taught by the Holy Spirit, indeed in receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit: the gifts of Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Holy Fear. These gifts were coming into the awareness of those gathered in the Upper Room between Ascension and Pentecost. They were beginning to exercise them, use them in specific ways, such as Saint Luke describes how they followed the Holy Spirit as He guided them in how to replace Judas Iscariot within the apostolic Twelve.

And this is why the Church asks for the gifts of the Holy Spirit: to be able to actively follow the Holy Spirit to make choices in this world that are holy and accord with the will of God. With the whole Church, let us pray:

Holy Spirit of God, you have poured your love into our hearts and granted us a diversity of gifts for the building up of your Holy Church: Come to us now in power and stir up those gifts among your faithful people in the Parish of Tazewell County, that we may without shame, fear, or fatigue announce to those around us the good news of your coming Kingdom, and in our common life bear winsome witness to the same, that the world may know that you are making all things new and that we are your disciples; through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Father, ever one God. Amen.