Alfie, was a dog we had for several of the earlier years of our family. He was a black cocker/over the back fence mix. When my wife and I picked him up as a wee pup we met his mom. She was the cocker, very sweet, intelligent and loved to play ball. Alfie was a very good, sweet, loving dog. He was great with kids, adults and other creatures, accepting each for who they were. But…Alfie was not smart. If you threw a ball he would look at you with his simple dog smile, wag his tail..and that’s about it. He never would have run a canine agility course, be a service dog or take part in a dog show. He was, simply, Alfie. My wife and I used to think of the song..”what’s it all about Alfie?” when observing his expressions of puzzlement about the complex stuff of dog life.
I suspect that the disciples had Alfie-like expressions on their faces as they witnessed our Lord ascend to the heavens. As the angels came and asked them what they were looking for they probably were wondering….”what is this all about?”. They had witnessed Jesus develop the Gospel in three years of miraculous ministry. They had travailed through His Passion. The horror, sorrow and disappointment of His death almost destroyed their faith, their lives. Then the resurrection, joy, fear, experiences that defied any comprehension and now….Jesus was gone. Defying gravity, sin, death and fear He literally ascended the clouds and returned to Heaven. He had instructed them clearly: wait for the promised Holy Spirit. I will empower and be with you always to guide and confirm my Gospel through your words and actions….but he was gone. What was happening?
Our Lord’s ascension is about the places, provision, and purpose of God. This event occurring between the resurrection and Pentecost culminates the incarnation, the epiphanial journey of Christ. It leads the Church and the believer to carry on that journey and work of Christ the King.
Places of God: The ascension completes the journey of Christ that begun with His incarnation, His birth and years in the fullness of humanity. Jesus, God, come in the flesh has conquered sin and death and now returns to the Father, to His heavenly throne. Journeying from the womb of Mary, through years of humanity to the depths of Sheol He now is home returning in joy to the embrace of the Father and the infinite joy of the Holy Spirit. But that is not all. St. Paul in writing to the Ephesians and Colossians declares that we are seated with Him in Heavenly places..that your hearts may be enlightened…that you may know His call..the riches of His glory. Our Lord’s ascension expands the spiritual geography, the places of our hearts to prepare and enable us for the Kingdom of Christ.
Provision of God: Jesus, in returning to the Father, opened the gates of Heaven to a fullness of the provision of God. The love, the glory, the beauty of His holiness, being so infinite simply needed to expand to all creation. In ascending Christ enables the the coming of the Holy Spirit to fill the hearts of each believer and hence fill the Church. In that same provision and promise of the Holy Spirit He enables to fullness of His Eucharistic Presence to be shared and known in an ever growing tide of grace and mercy. From the single table in the upper room the provision of God is expanded with the ascension so that today, in every church at every holy altar of Christ another leaf is added to the table that was once in that upper room.
Purpose of God: With God’s places expanding, and His provisions shared we are brought to realize that in the ascension we are called to know and share the very purpose of God. As He bring us to the places and riches of Heaven we are called to share that very wealth. To know and experience the healing of His mercy, the joy in His redemptive embrace is but the beginning. We each, and together , are then called to share His ascended Presence with every creature allowing the truth the He is with us to be expressed in our actions and words.
So what’s it all about? Why did Christ come and then return to Heaven? Alfie was a simple dog. He shared our place, enjoyed our provisions, and faithfully loved in his own unique, uncomplicated way. Perhaps he was smarter than we realized.