All during Easter season my homilies have talked about heaven,
because that’s why Jesus came, suffered, died and rose –
to open up a future for each of us to be with him forever.
So how appropriate that here we are, and what are we talking about?
Jesus ascending to his throne in heaven.
That said, this feast of the Ascension
is not simply about Jesus himself returning to heaven;
if that’s all it were, then where is the hope?
Rather, Jesus goes, as he said, to prepare a place for us.
It’s about you and me going to heaven.
So let’s talk about this.
First, I want to make a small but important point.
Notice that this happened 40 days after Jesus’ Resurrection.
So this really should have been observed last Thursday.
But some 30 years or so ago, most bishops in this country
decided that it would be beneficial to observe this on Sunday,
so more of the faithful could participate.
That’s why this is happening on Sunday.
Nevertheless, I think it’s important to explain something
about our Christian Faith, and I want to do it in big, bold letters:
we are not just telling stories.
Our Faith is built on facts: Jesus was born, he was crucified,
he died and he rose from the dead, in a particular place and time;
People witnessed all these things, and they were prepared to die –
very painful deaths – rather than deny what they saw.
Our Faith is built on facts; and if these things did not happen,
We are all wasting our time here.
But back to the main theme:
You and I see Jesus return to heaven,
and it means you and I are going there.
More than that: it means, in a real sense, we are already there.
Howso? Because you and I are part of Jesus.
How many ways does Jesus have to make this clear?
He calls himself the Bridegroom, and the Church is his Bride.
Jesus calls himself the head, and we are his body.
He is the Vine, we are the branches.
As Saint Paul describes in the second reading,
we share the same Holy Spirit,
and all the explosive power and life
that comes from having God’s Spirit within us.
The point I want to make is that there really is no separation.
The Body of Christ is not a dead body, scattered here and there,
but a living Body – intact and full of life.
So the conclusion is inescapable: if Jesus is in heaven (and he is),
then in some true sense, so are we!
Now, just to be clear: you and I have heaven, we have it now;
but we can lose it. So it’s something you and I must grab and hold on to.
That insight is what set off Saint Paul.
In the second reading, you can hear how excited he was about this.
Readers will often complain in the sacristy
that Paul wrote these long sentences – and they are right.
But if you think about it, that’s exactly what happens
when someone is erupting with excitement.
It’s an explosion of words.
Saint Paul realizes: he – and each of us – is already in heaven!
Or, maybe to put it another way, you and I already have heaven;
we just don’t realize it.
The difference between really grasping that, and not,
is the difference between being an on-fire, all-in, filled-with-joy Saint of God,
And being a bored, sometime pew-sitter,
who can’t wait to get out of church
because he or she can’t see what it’s all about.
Some of you are here, right now. Maybe you’re half-listening right now!
That’s OK, I’m not offended; but for about 90 seconds,
WAKE UP! WAKE UP! Listen just for 90 seconds, OK?
Jesus is real, Jesus is here, and what he offers is pure life.
There’s a smorgasbord of life laid before you;
yet you can still starve if you can’t be bothered to reach out for it.
That’s not your parents, that’s not your wife or husband;
It’s not my fault, or someone else’s, who failed you. THAT’S ON YOU.
It’s totally normal to be in a situation where you don’t get it.
It’s confusing, or boring, or whatever. Everybody goes through that.
Whatever you love, whatever gets you excited, still takes effort.
You have to put some work in.
So this notion that when it comes to your Faith,
someone has to do it all for you, cut up all your food in little pieces?
Feed it to you? Sorry, that’s bogus. That’s an excuse.
Do you like steak? I like steak.
And if someone puts a hot, juicy steak in front of me,
I’m not going to say, “Oh, no one cut it up, so I can’t eat it! So unfair!”
Dude: I’m eating it if I have to use my bare hands!
My point being that when what I just told you sinks in:
You and I are already in heaven – just claim it!
Then you’re going to grab that steak and chow down.
It’s yours. Claim it! Don’t let anyone or anything keep you from it!
If you are in school, and you go to religious education,
and something doesn’t make sense?
Ask and keep asking! “No, tell me again.”
Here’s a “problem” no one has ever brought me:
“We have a student who keeps demanding more.”
Or, “Father! In front of church,
we have parents and senior citizens picketing!
They are demanding more opportunities to learn their Faith.”
Don’t get me wrong: our parishioners are great
for seeking to grow in the Faith.
The argument I’m making is that no one should be going hungry.
There’s plenty here, and if anyone isn’t getting enough;
if there’s something I can do, our parish can do, that we’re not?
Please, just tell me. “Father! We need…we want…” Tell me.
We will find a way. You are already in heaven.
Heaven is already yours. Come and get it!
Jesus told his disciples – he told us – to ask for more, and keep asking.
“Ask and you shall receive,” he promised. Hold him to that promise!
He will absolutely keep it.