Room in God Forever

By Simon Cuff

Human beings are perverse. We try to put ourselves at the center of everything. We constantly make little gods of our own devising. We fashion idols that take the place of God in our lives. We elevate little bits of ourselves or our ways of being that become objects of worship in our daily lives. When it comes to what matters, we get completely the wrong end of the stick. We fail to give God his due.

Sometimes, I look around at the actions of our fellow human beings, at my own actions, and wonder what exactly God sees in us that he goes to such extraordinary lengths to save us, to snap us out of our idolatry and muddle-headedness, and to call us to himself in Christ.

We human beings even try to make ourselves the center of everything when it comes to our faith. We misread this or that bit of the Christian story so that instead of giving God his due and placing him at the center, this or that article of faith becomes a story about us.

When it comes to the feast of the Ascension, our perversion runs deeper still. Our capacity to misplace our focus shows no limits. Our ability to look for value and find meaning in the wrong place is front and center stage.

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?”

Why are you looking in the wrong place?

We perverse human beings who are always ready to make ourselves the center of the story suddenly decide that, when it comes to the Ascension, Christ is the center.

We tell ourselves that the Ascension is about Jesus finally going home to heaven. We make ourselves images of his feet dangling out of the sky as he travels upward. We write ourselves out of the story.

And yet, and this is where things grow really perverse, the Ascension of Christ is actually about us. It is about us. We are front and center, and yet with uncharacteristic modesty we write ourselves out of it. We focus on the heavenly rocket man returning home instead.

The Ascension is about humanity. It is, for once, about us. Or rather it’s about what God has done for us in Christ and what that means for our humanity. This is not about a journey through the skies, but God’s action in Christ.

Pope Benedict XVI remarked, in words worth quoting at length:

The Ascension is not described as a journey to on high but rather as an action of the power of God, who introduces Jesus into the space of closeness to the Divine. … In Christ ascended into Heaven, the human being has entered into intimacy with God in a new and unheard-of way; humanity henceforth finds room in God forever.

“Heaven”: this word Heaven does not indicate a place above the stars but something far more daring and sublime: it indicates Christ himself, the divine Person who welcomes humanity fully and forever, the One in whom God and humankind are inseparably united forever. Humankind’s being in God, this is Heaven.

The Ascension teaches us something profound about what God has done to us and for us in Christ. “Humanity finds room in God forever.”

In Christ, God has entered into and transformed the perversion and muddle-headedness of our humanity. He’s not just patched us up and left us looking up to the sky. He’s not some kind of heavenly superman who’s flown in, saved the day, and flown out.

He has become one of us, he has died for all of us. He transformed us, and has taken us to himself in the Ascension, into the very center of the divine life.

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?”

Why are you looking the wrong place?

The Ascension isn’t about where Jesus has gone. We know from the end of Matthew’s gospel that he is with us always. We know from the Mass we are about to celebrate that he is with us here, even in bread and wine.

The Ascension is not about where Jesus has gone, but about what God has done and is doing for us in Christ. It’s about the transformation of our human nature. It’s a story that reminds us that we are not the center of every story, by reminding us that God has taken us to himself, to the very center of the divine life.

Why then our uncharacteristic modesty?

Why do we unusually struggle to see ourselves at the center of this particular story?

Why? Because to do so would be to see ourselves as God sees us, and that idea terrifies us a little. To see ourselves as God sees us, warts and all. To think that we might be able to live lives so completely directed toward God that we might cease to be the center of attention. To love ourselves as completely as God loves us. To love ourselves as we really are, not as how we think we ought to be or how we want to be seen.

If we see ourselves as God sees us, if we see the Ascension as revealing to us the closeness of God to us at each and every hour, if we come to see our true being, our world is turned upside-down, our priorities upended, our lives transformed.

In this Mass, as in every Mass, as the bread and the wine are transformed, so are we. We are sent out to transform others and the world around us. We leave this encounter transformed and mindful of what the Ascension teaches us about human nature, the intimate closeness we enjoy with God. And we leave this place with our eyes set firmly on our heavenly home, revealed to us in the Ascension: “Humankind’s being in God, this is Heaven.”

The Rev. Dr. Simon Cuff is vicar of St. Peter de Beauvoir, London. 


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