May 9, 2018 – Intersection of Theology, Cosmology, Simple Truth, and Divine Mystery

Sacred Scripture About the Ascension

John 6:62  – What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?

John 7:33  – So Jesus said, “I will be with you only a little while longer, and then I will go to the one who sent me.

John 14:2  – In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?

John 14:12  – Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.

John 14:28  – You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.

John 16:7  – But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.

John 20:17  – Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”

Mark 16:19  – So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God.

Luke 24:51  – As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.

Acts 1:9  – When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.

Romans 8:34  – Who will condemn? It is Christ (Jesus) who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.

Hebrews 9:24  – For Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one, but heaven itself, that he might now appear before God on our behalf.

1 Peter 3:21-22  – …through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.

And, from the Nicene Creed

On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Celebration of The Ascension 

Father Linsky led a discussion of Ascension Sunday (or Thursday, 40 days after Easter) focused on the meaning of Christ’s return to the father. It is a wonderful thing to celebrate the theological truth of that event signifying the end of Christ’s earthly ministry, the accomplishment of his mission, His submission to the Father, His death and resurrection, His establishment of the Church, the “Body of Christ,” to continue His work, guided and led by the Holy Spirit. What a privilege and responsibility we bear as members of that Body to love and to obey His commandments.

Here is an excellent and well documented discussion of the history of celebration of Ascension Sunday covering these key points:

  • Commemoration of the Ascension dates from apostolic times
  • Initially part of the Feast of Pentecost
  • Established as separate feast by 341 A.D.
  • Universally celebrated in the Roman Church by 400 A.D.
  • Associated vigil established in 7th century; no longer included in Canon Law
  • Involved processions and elaborate ceremonies, including “hoisting a statue of the Risen Christ aloft until it disappeared through an opening in the ceiling of the church” a few hundred years ago but now focuses on extinguishing of the Paschal Candle
  • There have been strange practices from time to time but now abandoned

Cosmology

The Ascension is a beautiful thing for which we give thanks and which we celebrate, but if we try too hard to figure out exactly where Jesus “ascended” to, where Heaven and those “many mansions” are, we get into trouble and find ourselves wandering in the weeds pretty quickly.

I admit that “cosmology” is a word I have never used and had to look up. It is the study of the origin and development of the universe which we, of course, believe is a creation of God…not just Heaven and Earth but “all things, visible and invisible,” the whole universe, which, even to us in the 21st century, seems to be infinite already and still expanding.

The ancient Hebrews, under divine inspiration, developed and wrote an excellent understanding of the theology of creation, but their understanding of the science was limited by their inability to see beyond the lands they occupied and the sky they could see with the naked eye. Sacred Scripture contains many descriptions of the world as they understood it and helps us understand what that view was and how it affected their explanations of theology.

Using words of Sacred Scripture about the creation process and the result of it, many simple diagrams of the ancient understandings of the universe have been created. The first one of these I ever saw was hand drawn about fifteen years ago by Dr. Ted Swanson, Professor of OT and Hebrew. It was a primitive version of the diagram below from  the stpeterslist.com website.

Read the Genesis account of creation below while looking at the diagram. As a help, here is information about the Hebrew word translated as “dome” or “firmament.”

Creation

Genesis 1:6-18 Then God said, “Let there be a dome in the middle of the waters, to separate one body of water from the other.” And so it happened: God made the dome, and it separated the water above the dome from the water below it. God called the dome “the sky.” Evening came, and morning followed– the second day. Then God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered into a single basin, so that the dry land may appear.” And so it happened: the water under the sky was gathered into its basin, and the dry land appeared. God called the dry land “the earth,” and the basin of the water he called “the sea.” God saw how good it was. Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth vegetation: every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it.” And so it happened: the earth brought forth every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it. God saw how good it was. Evening came, and morning followed– the third day. Then God said: “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky, to separate day from night. Let them mark the fixed times, the days and the years, and serve as luminaries in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth.” And so it happened: God made the two great lights, the greater one to govern the day, and the lesser one to govern the night; and he made the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw how good it was.

Other Scriptural Descriptions of Heaven and Earth

2 Samuel 22:8 “The earth swayed and quaked; the foundations of the heavens trembled and shook when his wrath flared up.

2 Samuel 22:16 Then the wellsprings of the sea appeared, the foundations of the earth were laid bare, At the rebuke of the LORD, at the blast of the wind of his wrath.

Isaiah 40:22 He sits enthroned above the vault of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; He stretches out the heavens like a veil, spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.

1 Samuel 2:8 For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S, and he has set the world upon them.

Ecclesiastes 1:5-7 The sun rises and the sun goes down; then it presses on to the place where it rises. Blowing now toward the south, then toward the north, the wind turns again and again, resuming its rounds. All rivers go to the sea, yet never does the sea become full. To the place where they go, the rivers keep on going.

So…

To get back to the important issue, it is best that we meditate on the fact of the ascension and its meaning to us and leave the rest to God. We will know soon enough what we need to know about the physical details and, I expect, will be completely astonished. I expect the whole truth will be as different from our understanding as our understanding is from that of the ancient Hebrews.

Word on Fire

I’ll give Bishop Barron the final word: “He has gone to a dimension that transcends but impinges upon our universe.

 

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