Ascension Day, 26th May 2022
Luke seems to use time in a very plastic way here, moulding it to suit his purposes, placing the Ascension on Easter Day at the end of his gospel account of Jesus’ time with his disciples, and then placing it also forty days later at the beginning of his account of the time of the Church, the time, that is, when we, as Christ’s body, have to venture forth without, as it were, a visible head. Now, as so often in our thinking, we like to map reality as an either/or, before and after, timescale when what is going on in God’s time, that is in eternity, may not follow or be constricted by our timescale at all but rather encompasses it; is its beginning and end. We can think of the coming and going of God’s Spirit in this light, also, and the distinction we like to make between the things of heaven and the things of earth, for the Spirit has been operative throughout time and heaven and earth seem to coincide in Christ, symbolised best, perhaps, by the notion of his glorified body with something of the earth still about it and yet something of heaven, too.
This line of thought was prompted by reading an article in the latest edition of the Irish Theological Quarterly which explores in a very detailed manner how a new theological understanding of time and eternity influenced the Vatican II documents on the Liturgy and the Church beginning with idea that in our praise of God in the eucharist we are sharing now in the heavenly liturgy, that this is no isolated, separate earthly activity in which we prepare ourselves for heaven but is already our participation in the heavenly worship of the communion of saints. Again, another dualism is overcome in the idea that the saints in heaven are not separated from us in death – we are all, in this sense, alive in God or, more specifically, alive in Christ, and open then to the action of God’s Spirit through and in Christ. It’s not that God’s Spirit wasn’t operative before but now is made available to us in a new way, won for us by Christ’s death and resurrection but somehow needing Christ’s physical absence to be fully operative or available to us. This is where the idea, so well expressed by Augustine last night, comes into play, for one cannot have a living body without a head or a head without a body. This is one more dualism to be overcome. No, it’s all one – and the Spirit is our pledge or promise of this unity of body and head; the power of God made manifest even as Church. For, as we hear in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
He has put all things under his feet, and made him, as the ruler of everything, the head of the Church; which is his body, the fullness of him who fills the whole creation.(Eph.1:23)