The story is told that in Valladolid, Spain, where Christopher Columbus died in 1506, stands a monument commemorating the great discoverer. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the memorial is a statue of a lion destroying one of the Latin words that had been part of Spain’s motto for centuries.
Before Columbus made his voyages, the Spaniards thought they had reached the outer limits of earth. Thus their motto was ‘Ne Plus Ultra,’ which means, ‘No More Beyond.’ The word being torn away by the lion is ‘Ne’ or ‘No’ thus it reads ‘Plus Ultra.’ Columbus had proven that there was indeed ‘more beyond.’
In the same way, our readings today, proclaim that there is ‘more beyond.’ The Ascension is part of what we call the Pascal Mystery. There are 4 interrelated parts: suffering and death, resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Spirit.
These sacred events are closely interlocked as one reality. As the resurrection proclaims that Jesus is alive, the Ascension asserts that Jesus has entered into glory. In this celebration of the Ascension, we are invited to let go of our linear thinking and stand in the space of accepting and embracing Mystery.
Jesus did not ride up into the sky in Shepherd 1. For we know that heaven is not a place but a relationship with God – Jesus is totally and forever reunited with God. Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension and the coming of the Spirit form a ‘seamless garment’ so to speak, one single movement - the passing of Jesus through death to life!
Today, on the feast of the Ascension, we remember, we celebrate, and we believe - the more beyond. The more beyond pain and suffering; the more beyond doubt and death; the more beyond grieving and loss.
We are invited into embracing the mystery which Jesus reveals is an intimate forever, eternal, everlasting, never ending, timeless, priceless, unconditional love relationship with our God in which Jesus will be with us until the end of the age.
Jesus promised that we would never be left alone. The Ascension of Jesus was not the end of his presence with us, but a new way of being intimately present. As St. Augustine writes, “You ascended before our eyes, and we turned back grieving, only to find you in our hearts.”
The four gospels do not end with Jesus’ absence, but with his continuing presence. Mark writes that Jesus was taken up into heaven and then adds “the disciples went forth and preached everywhere while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message with signs.” In John, Jesus is saying to Peter and to us, “Follow me.” In Matthew, he does not mention the Ascension. His Gospel ends with Jesus saying, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” And in today’s Gospel, Luke ends with Jesus ascending into heaven in order to send the promise of the Spirit.
And Jesus continues his presence with us in Eucharist, in the Scriptures, in our assembly here, and in our hearts. Through us and in all believers of this Mystery, Jesus continues to heal and to comfort, to forgive and to include.
It is in all hearts of believers of this Mystery, that beyond this space of bread and wine, Word and ritual that his love and compassion continues to be found. We are not to stand and stare up at the clouds but to risk entering into the uncertainties of life, and to truly see God’s presence in each other, in the eyes of the poor, the marginalized, and in the needs and hearts of the "last, the least and the lost."
Ascension tells us that if we’re looking for Jesus, we need a new way of seeing, a new way of following, for the Paschal Mystery belongs to each of us. "Its footsteps are traced in our lives as we negotiate the physical, psychological, and spiritual challenges inherent in our human journey."
- May we have the courage to be witnesses of Jesus’ message for we have been given a Spirit of wisdom and knowledge;
- May we embrace the mystery of this feast so that the eyes of our hearts will be enlightened and know the surpassing greatness of God’s power for all who believe.
- And finally, may we truly and intimately know the hope that belongs to God’s call now and into the more beyond!