The Ascension of the Lord
June 2, 2019
You Can’t Go Home Again is the title of a book by American author Thomas Wolfe. It was published in 1940, after his death. In this novel, which has become a literary classic, Wolfe ponders the enormous social change in American society during the tumultuous 1920s and ‘30s. The title speaks to one of the major themes of the book. Simply put: You can’t truly go back to a place you once lived because so much will have changed since you left that it is not the same place anymore.
It’s been suggested that the title was inspired by a friend of Wolfe’s, who used that very expression in a conversation with him: You Can’t Go Home Again. Accordingly, he asked her permission to make that thought the title for his book. Asking permission was a nice gesture, but I would argue that it wasn’t a legal necessity. The experience of returning after a long period of time to a place where we once lived and called “home” is universal. We go back home with expectations of what awaits us, only to find overwhelming change.
Beginning with a shout out to Thomas Wolfe, a self-proclaimed “vagabond” published a short magazine article entitled: The Place I Once Called Home. As should be expected, he described the complete transformation of the small east Texas town which was his place of origin. He ended his “going home experience” with this thought:
Yes, newcomers need places to live, eat and be entertained. People have to be accommodated, infrastructure must be maintained and facilities have to be modernized. But, the place I once called home exists only on maps and in my memory. (Jonathan Look, Forbes Magazine, Sept. 22, 2017)
This Sunday, as we bring the Easter Season to a close, we celebrate the Ascension of The Lord into Heaven. Although Luke reports the events leading up to The Lord’s return to His place of origin, we can only ponder…speculate at best…what His “going home experience” was like. But we are able to do that. We can imagine Jesus’s “going home experience” because He told us: I am going to the Father. (John 16:16).
Jesus’s “place of origin” is Almighty God…Holy Origin…Sacred Mystery…infinite future…Creator of heaven and earth; God, Who always was, always will be, and always remains the same.
These are all concepts too big for us to wrap our minds around.
But, we know this much to be true: Jesus Christ, as was foretold by the prophets, was conceived by The Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; He descended into hell; on the third day He rose again from the dead; and He ascended into heaven.
That is what we celebrate today. Jesus DID return home…to His Holy Origin…where nothing was changed. Unlike the fleeting things of this world, The Kingdom of God is Eternal…a place of unending peace, joy, and love. And having arrived home, Christ took His seat at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, from where He judges the living and the dead…with mercy and forgiveness.
That is exactly why His followers who accompanied The Lord to the mountaintop on Ascension Day felt such great joy, even as He vanished from their sight. They relied on His promise that when we return to “our place of origin,” we will see Him again, in all of His glory, and He will judge us with mercy and love and welcome us home.
But it is important to remember The Lord’s final instructions to the Apostles and disciples: Stay where you are and be my witnesses. This is a very important part of what we celebrate today. These instructions continue to apply to us. It is as urgent today as it was back then that we heed Jesus’s instructions to stay where we are and give witness to the Gospel because there will be newcomers, future generations of Christians who will need a spiritual home while they wait to return to the Holy Origin. They will need spiritual food to eat…The Eucharist. They will need a community of believers not simply to entertain them, but to give them instruction and hope. People have to be accommodated, just as we were accommodated by our ancestors who have passed on our Creed…our faith…to us.
Like the ‘20s and ‘30s that inspired Thomas Wolfe to say: You Can’t Go Home Again, we live in tumultuous times. But Christ has assured us that WE CAN GO HOME AGAIN. He has given us a detailed map, showing us the way to our Holy Origin…the Gospel. He has left us with a memory of our Holy Origin…The Eucharist. And He has even sent us a completely trustworthy guide…The Holy Spirit…Whose presence among us we celebrate next week on Pentecost Sunday. And if we use all that Christ has given us, we will return to our Holy Origin and experience The Glory of God The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, now and ever shall be, world without end….AMEN!