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Today we are celebrating the Eve of the Ascension. Preaching on the Ascension, St. Augustine of Hippo states: “Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him. Listen to the words of the Apostle: If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth. For just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.
“Christ is now exalted above the heavens, but he still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of his body, have to bear. He showed this when he cried out from above: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? and when he said: I was hungry and you gave me food. Why do we on earth not strive to find rest with him in heaven even now, through the faith, hope and love that unites us to him?”
Augustine is teaching us of two ‘states’ of the Ascension as they relate to our union with Christ, and he is basing this teaching on what we learn from St. Paul’s writings to the church in Corinth: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthian 12:12). What does this mean for us?
We are the Body of Christ and Christ is the head of the Body, so no matter where he is, he is with us always unto the end of the age, because we are one. Through his death and resurrection, we become members of him. Therefore, since he has ascended into heaven, we too have ascended into heaven. If we are on earth and we suffer, he is on earth suffering with us. We see Christ in everyone we meet, because he is in everyone we meet. We worship him as he sits at the right hand of the Father, because he is there also.
Bottom line: the Ascension is a mystery, that said, this is probably some sort of heresy, so just forget it after I’ve said it, but as I was thinking on this, I remembered Jacob and his ladder. You’ll recall that Jacob laid down, fell asleep, and had a dream: “there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.” He then speaks to Jacob about the land that is promised and then says, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” When Jacob woke, he said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
Jesus said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” Jesus also says, “‘Truly, truly I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.'”
This is the possible heresy bit: it seems to me that the Ascension is the permanent placement and perfection of Jacob’s ladder, giving everyone access to the Gate of Heaven, to Jesus, following his departure. And it is through this ladder that we have access to the head of the Body, Jesus, and the very throne room of God. Maybe something to think on… or maybe not.