On the feast of the Ascension we celebrate the glorification of Jesus. The humble Jesus who suffered and died now reigns in glory at the right hand of the Father. But what a strange path led him to that glory. Frankly, at first the apostles found it incredible that anyone, much less a Messiah, could travel to glory by such a path.
It was their hope and dream that Jesus was the promised Messiah. But when he was put to death, their dream was reduced to rubble. A humiliated, crucified Messiah was unthinkable. They searched the Scriptures for answers but found none.
However, gradually their minds were opened and they realized that there was another way of looking at the Scriptures. They came to see that all the prophets had foretold that the Messiah would suffer and die, and thus enter into glory. Yes, he would take a strange path to glory. And yet, was it that strange? How can anyone attain to glory except through sacrifice and suffering?
From a worldly point of view the hour of Jesus” death was an hour of failure. Worse, it was an hour of shame and humiliation. But by raising him from the dead, God turned it into an hour of triumph for Jesus, and an hour of grace for us. His death, far from being the end of the dream, was precisely the way in which it was realized. And so the apostles began to understand the message of Jesus” death and resurrection – glory attained through suffering. First the pain, then the joy.
Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father. The foremost place of honor in the Kingdom now belongs to Jesus, and rightly so. That position was his by right of his divine son-ship; but he renounced that right, and won it by right of his loving service. It wasn’t the suffering as such that earned him that glory. It was the life he led, a life of service and self-sacrifice even to death, a death from which he emerged victorious by his resurrection. He didn’t seek his own glory, but the glory of his Father. The path that led Jesus to glory was no easy one. But then if it was, it wouldn’t be of much help to us.
After seeing Jesus ascend into heaven, the apostles returned to Jerusalem with joy. Why the joy? Because they were now convinced that their beloved Jesus was alive. So their hearts burned with joy. All this shows the goodness of God, who makes our deepest dreams come true in the most surprising of ways. He makes all things work for the good of those who place their trust in him. He brings good out of evil, life out of death, and glory out of pain and suffering.
There are times in life when we may find ourselves going down a sad and lonely road. We must remember that we are not alone. The risen Lord journeys with us. And he knows all about human suffering. He is so close to us that our stories merge with his. It is only his story – glory achieved through suffering and death – that helps us to make sense of our own story. The resurrection and ascension of Jesus open all our stories to the prospect, not just of a good ending, but of a glorious ending.
This feast is as much about us as about Jesus. His ascension shows us the goal of our earthly journey. It is a goal and a destiny which defies even our imagination. It gives an eternal dimension to our lives.
We live in the hope that the words of Jesus will come true for us: “Where I am, you too shall be.” Meanwhile we have a task to do: to preach the Good News and to be his witnesses in the world.