When I was young, in the far-off days of the 1980s, popular music was a little different to today. Better, my generation would say, though others would disagree. One of the iconic anthems of the 1980s is a song by the Swedish band Europe called “The Final Countdown.” Anyone from my generation will know it, and can probably sing at least the chorus, to the probable irritation of their hearers. The song speaks of a countdown to a launch taking us beyond earth to other planets. On this Sunday it is worth considering how the Feast of the Ascension is the beginning of the truly “final” countdown, to a departure to somewhere very different than Venus or Mars.
That may seem an awfully odd, or even ominous, way of looking at it, but it shouldn’t be. Rather it should be a thought which inspires joyful anticipation. As Jesus returns to the Father he also prepares to return to us, as our readings remind us.
When Jesus said that he was going to prepare a place for us, he was speaking the literal truth. As he ascends in his human body, risen and glorified but also fully human, he makes heaven a place where human bodies can and will eternally dwell. Our risen and glorified bodies are to live in that place. This is the beginning of the ‘new heaven and the new earth’ of which the Book of Revelation speaks.
So Jesus’s ascension is not a goodbye, but rather a shared cry of “until we meet again”; and that future meeting is certain and full of joy. The certainty that all things are now able to move to their proper end, in both senses of that word: their conclusion and their destiny, should fill us with hope and anticipation. However it should also spur us to get busy preparing.
Whenever Jesus spoke about his return, he stressed the need to be ready. We do not know when he will come again. We don’t need to know. But we do need to know that it will happen, and that it is our greatest joy. Because of what Jesus accomplished on Calvary, because of his Resurrection, and because of this glorious Ascension, our final end is joy.
So we are called to be ready to receive this final and greatest gift God has for us. Being ready doesn’t mean, as the angel pointed out to the disciples, standing around looking up into the sky. It means going out among our brothers and sisters to spread the good news, and to join with them in the love of God and of each other.
Fr Chris Denham