We tend to think along a sequence, especially when it come to the passing of time. One hour follows another, one year follows another and so on and so on. Ever since most of us had a watch of our own, the passing of time has really come home to us. We glance at watches and clocks all the time, and they even measure out seconds for such is our unnecessary anxiety.
That fine poet Elizabeth Jennings was for much of her life fascinated by how we experience time, time which can be our worry and our pain:
‘Clocks chime, bells ring. The present slips away
Even as we make
The good choice or the bad…’.
The life of Jesus can easily look like this, one period following another. Lately in the liturgical year, we have been following how after the events in Holy Week of Jesus’s passion came the Easter of his resurrection, then there were Jesus’s various appearances after his resurrection, and now we come to his Ascension, and soon after that we shall get to Pentecost, the sending of the Holy Spirit.
But what if in Jesus Christ, and in some mysterious way also in us, eternity has become mingled with our kind of time? What if some events happen in our time but last forever? Not that we human beings could bring this about by our own power. We are made and unmade in time.
First, as always, comes Jesus Christ. By his Ascension we don’t mean that he used to be God up in heaven, that he then lived among as a man for about 33 years, and then following his resurrection he ascended back into heaven as the God he had been all along but had put aside for a while. Jesus Christ would then start to look like some kind of meteorite that came from far away in outer space, appeared briefly to our planet, and then went away again to some far off, inaccessible place.
By his Ascension, by being taken up into heaven, Jesus Christ has changed how we live in time, not just how he lives. Christ has sanctified time, made it holy, liveable by God’s rhythm. He has given its flow a clear direction, a definite end (in every sense of this last word). Jesus’s time on earth came to an end, and so has our time started to end. We are no longer in the succession of time as we used to be. Already the times they are a-changing, and will be completely changed when Christ comes again in glory to transform everything definitively.
This is the certain hope of renewal and transformation, knowledge revealed to us that the old things are passing away and that everything is being made new. It is in this hope that Christians can spend their lives in good actions, not afraid that goodness will be undone and blotted out by the passing of time. Glad too that the evil done in the past can be repented and forgiven. The Christian can trust that nothing will be wasted by God, in his good time.
We ask ourselves: What can last? Who can last? Yet the good done, the virtues lived out, the people we become under grace will not be dissolved by the unstoppable passage of time. Life is not a succession of moments that don’t add up to anything.
By his Ascension at the right-hand of God, Jesus Christ, as it were, has made a human space within God for us to be welcomed into. Already we are welcomed, although we do not yet dwell there fully or with absolute certainty. Already this union with God happens when we live in the virtues of faith, hope and charity, even if this union is precarious because time can undo us as well as make us. The ascended Jesus Christ gives to humanity the time and the space to flourish.
Eventually, please God, we too shall be taken up into heaven and resurrected beyond the reach of time and its uncertainties.