|“The Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ” by Piotr Basin|
Today, the Church celebrates one of its most concrete feasts – the ascension of Christ. Throughout history there have been (and will continue to be, I am sure) Utopian dreams of a better world of tomorrow. These dreams have been based on everything from the rise and triumph of the proletariat to the notion of a separated community of the enlightened to (one which is very much in vogue now) the undaunted belief in the sure progress of science. These are the Utopian dreams that history has seen come and go. They are often idealistic and based in a hoped for vision of tomorrow but today’s feast is different. Where Utopian dreams are often ideological and abstract the ascension of Christ is concrete and sure.
It is so because of the simple fact that it is not founded in some abstract principle or ideal but in the very resurrected body of Christ. Christ is indeed risen which means he is risen body and soul, flesh and blood. Anything less would not be fully and authentically human. Christ ascends to the Father not just in spirit or thought but in the very concrete reality of his full humanity. Throughout this Easter season in the Scriptures proclaimed we have heard Christ, time and time again, assuring his disciples that he is indeed present in “flesh and bone”. This means fully present not just up to the moment of the ascension but in the ascension itself and now at the Father’s right hand. From the day of the ascension heaven “began to populate itself with the earth, or, in the language of Revelation, a new heaven and earth began.”
In the ascension we truly realize that we are not orphans. We are not left to the cold and cruel winds of chance, fate and odds or a history without direction. Direction has been set. The resurrected Christ (body and soul) sits at the Father’s right hand. This, and nothing less, is our goal. It is what we are meant for and what we are called to by God’s grace.
It is truly concrete and it is achieved and experienced concretely.
In the gospel Jesus tells us that he is “the way” and the way, it turns out, is walked concretely. The ascension is experienced again not in some abstract manner but in how we concretely treat and love the smallest and poorest brothers and sisters in our midst. This, I have found, is a foundational understanding of the Community of Sant’Egidio which really is nothing more than discipleship 101. When we love concretely we experience the ascension and we are brought toward the fullness of the future that God has prepared for us in Christ.
Let me share an example. For three years now our Johnson City Community of Sant’Egidio has been taking sandwich bags every Monday to the John Sevier Center. (The John Sevier Center is a low-income housing unit in downtown Johnson City.) We do not go there as experts in anything. We know we cannot solve the residents problems and struggles. We just go and we are faithful in going and in this simple act of being present a human space is created both for the residents and for us. We become friends. We are brought a little bit further toward the fullness that awaits us all. In this human space miracles happen and signs are given – demons are cast out and life is gained. I have seen it for myself these past three years.
Christ bestows his love upon us. We are meant to communicate it. Love that is not communicated soon withers and dies.
Love is lived not abstractly but concretely and it is in the concrete act that we are brought toward the fullness that awaits us all.