The National Catholic Review
Ascension (B), May 29, 2003
“Why are you standing there looking at the sky?” (Acts 1:11)

How high is up? Is that where heaven is? If Jesus ascended into heaven, might we still find his body up there? These are not questions that only children might ask; and if the children do indeed ask them, what answers can we give? These are profound questions about cosmology, theology and Christology. If religious seekers ask such questions, what answers do we give?


Few of us conceive of a three-leveled world with earth in the middle, heaven above and the netherworld beneath. But we continue to think of heaven as an existence—if not a place—that transcends our present existence. So why not refer to it as “out there,” as long as we do not limit “out there” to a spatial “out there.”

How high is up? It is beyond our comprehension. Is that where heaven is? Could be, as long as we do not limit heaven to spacial dimensions. If Jesus ascended into heaven, might we still find his body up there? Now that is the question to ponder today.

The feast of the Ascension celebrates one aspect of the resurrection, namely Jesus’ exaltation. He did not wait 40 days to be glorified at God’s right hand. That already happened at his resurrection. We cannot even begin to grasp the scope of this mystery. Therefore, throughout the Easter season we focus our attention first on one aspect of the mystery and then on another. On Easter we concentrate on Jesus’ victory over sin and death; today we contemplate his enthronement. On Pentecost we will reflect on the gift of the Spirit.

The flow of today’s readings carries us through the message to this feast. First we stand with the disciples gazing up at the sky, not knowing what has happened or what it might mean for us. In the second reading Paul explains the theological meaning of Jesus’ exaltation. Then in the Gospel reading we ponder the commission given first to the disciples and then to us: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel.”

The two men in white garments who were present at Jesus’ ascension hint at this commission. Why do you stand there looking at the sky? You have work to do. You have a commission to fulfill. From now on, you are the body of Christ; you must proclaim the good news; you must drive out the demons that hold people in their addicting clutches; you must embrace all people with the merciful love of God. You yourselves now stand as an answer to the question, just where did Jesus go?

Dianne Bergant, C.S.A., is professor of biblical studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Ps 47:2-3, 6-9; Eph 1:17-23 (or Eph 4:1-13); Mk 16:15-20

• Where in your life do you find genuine self-emptying love?

• Pray for the grace to offer such love to others.

• How do you fulfill the commission, given by Jesus at the time of his ascension, to proclaim the Gospel?

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