audio homily here:
In a Barnes and Noble Bookstore awhile ago, in the religion section, I noticed a good number of books on heaven. Most of these, as far as I could judge, are accounts of people who say they’ve been there or just about, and are reporting on their experience. Looks like heaven is an item of some interest today.
The Feast of the Ascension is our basic book on heaven. Jesus promises us a home there. The Ascension is part of the Easter mystery. On Easter Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead and for forty days, scripture say, he ate and drank and met with his disciples to build up their faith. Then, he ascended into heaven.
Rising from the dead was not the end of his story. He rose from the dead but did continue life on earth as before. He didn’t rise like those whom he raised from the dead, like Lazarus whom he called from the tomb, like the little girl and the dead son of a widow of Naim. They went back to ordinary life. Jesus did not.
No, after he rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, our creed says. He entered another world beyond this one, a world greater than this one. There, from a place of great power, he extends his promise and power to us here on earth.
When I was a boy, I remember my father buying a record player. It was the mid 1940’s and times were hard; I’m sure he broke the family bank to pay for it. For a good while he only had a couple of those old vinyl records he would play over and over.
One of them was a haunting black spiritual sung by Marian Anderson called “Heaven.”
“I got shoes, and you got shoes, all God’s children got shoes.
When I getta heaven gonna put on my shoes
and gonna walk all over God’s heaven, heaven.
Everybody’s talking bout Heaven ain’t goin’ there.
heaven, heaven. Gonna walk all over God’s heaven.”
I still remember the hope in that great singer’s voice and in the song she sang. She was singing the song of barefooted slaves who were looking for something more. It wasn’t just a pair of shoes that would wear out after awhile. These were shoes God gave you in heaven, a place of completed dreams. Once you put on those shoes you could walk freely and walk everywhere.
The Feast of the Ascension points to heaven as our final home, where all our dreams are realized, where tears are wiped away, where sadness is no more, where wrongs are righted, where reunion with those we love takes place, where we enjoy the presence of God and all the saints.
For now, we only have hints of heaven. We only have assurances of faith. And it’s not enough, as the spiritual says, just to talk about it, we must walk in the steps of Jesus. Walking in his steps brings us, not to a grave, but to the place where he is. That’s heaven.
I wonder why our first reading stops where it does, because the next line says that the disciples walked back to Jerusalem, to the place where they were living. “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying.”
Before we walk in heaven, we have to keep walking on earth.