Jesus is Enthroned in Heaven
Homily for the Solemnity of the Ascension
Each liturgical year asks us to reflect on the life of Jesus from the first moment to the last. That reflection begins on March 25, the day we celebrate the Annunciation of the birth of Jesus by the angel Gabriel to Mary, who is identified as a maiden of Nazareth. Nine months later on December 25, we celebrate the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Shortly after that celebration, we enter the season of Lent which prepares us for the Easter season – a period of fifty days in which we reflect on the Paschal Mystery which consists of the passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost.
As we celebrate today the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, we find the focus of this celebration in the responsorial psalm – Psalm 47 – a hymn that was written for the day on which a king of Israel was enthroned.
Millions of people watched the coronation of King Charles III which was televised on May 6. King Charles was crowned during a worship service of the Church of England, commonly known as the Anglican Church. As is the case with any worship liturgy, this event featured many hymns, Psalms, and antiphons. Almost all of the liturgical music for that event came straight from the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. While a few of these musical pieces were written by composers such as Handel, Perry, and Walton, at least twelve of the hymns and antiphons were commissioned by Charles himself for this celebration. While the coronation and enthronement of Charles III and his queen, Camilla, struck some people as a rather antiquated and meaningless ceremony, those who watched the ceremony unfold would have seen an ancient rite come to life.
The writer of Psalm 47 paints a picture of the enthronement of Jesus at the right hand of God the Father amid shouts of joy and blaring trumpets. It reminds us that not only is God considered the creator of our universe, he is rightly called the King of all the earth. God reigns over all the nations, even those that do not recognize the Deity. The Psalm sweeps us into a great procession. The ark of the covenant, a sign of the presence of God in the temple of Jerusalem, is carried in solemn procession. Scholars believe that the temple liturgy evolved because the people of Israel who worshiped one God became jealous of the neighboring nations which worshiped several gods. The Jewish people asked Samuel to anoint a king to represent their God, but Samuel refused, telling them that the God of Israel was their King. However, Samuel relented in his refusal at the promptings of God himself. We cannot be sure of the actual event, but we can be sure that this Psalm describes a ritualization of Yahweh’s kingship over the chosen people and over all the earth. This great king had chosen this people, given them a land and dominion over other nations. The mood of this event fits the period of David when the kingdom was at its largest extent and the surrounding nations were subject to Israel and paying tribute.
As the early Christians reflected on the Paschal mystery, especially upon the Ascension of Jesus, they came to realize that this part of the Paschal mystery saw Jesus being rewarded for his obedience to the Father’s will. The readings for the solemnity always begin with the story of the Ascension of Jesus from the Acts of the Apostles. Jesus instructs his disciples, commissions them as witnesses, and is lifted up to the heavens out of their sight. Throughout his life Jesus had been instructing his disciples about the Kingdom of God; now he was taking his rightful place in that kingdom. Jesus is then taken up into heaven in a cloud, a common sign of God’s presence. However, shouts of praise and applause are not enough. Jesus commissions the disciples to be witnesses that the people of the whole earth might know the good news that they belong to God who is enthroned on high.
The passage from the Letter to the Ephesians is a prayer that we may be enlightened specifically concerning the great hope that is ours. Our hope springs from God’s great power which raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the heavens. This power is now exercised for those who believe. God is King; God raises Jesus to the throne and through him brings us all into the glorious kingdom of his inheritance. Our worship today asks that we may be worthy to live with him in heaven just as he has lived with us on earth.