“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? Acts 1: 11
There was a story about one man called Nicky. Nicky often boasted about his deep Faith. Once, a storm arose and the rains threatened to flood Nicky’s house. A fireman rushed in and said, “Come, I’ll carry you away!” Pointing upward, Nicky exclaimed, “Jesus is the way!” The downpour continued and the waters reached Nicky’s waist. A fisherman rowed by and screamed, “Jump in, I’ll steer you to safety!” gazing heavenward, Nicky retorted, “Only Jesus saves!” Later, rising rainwater forced Nicky to climb onto the roof. The pilot of a helicopter hovering overhead shouted, “I’ll help you!” Nicky replied: “I trust in God alone!” Nicky drowned in the raging waters. In Heaven, he complained: “Lord , I trusted You, but You abandoned me!” God replied, “No, I didn’t! I tried to save you as a fireman, fisherman and pilot! Why didn’t you do anything besides gazing heavenward?”
Our Christian religion is a material religion. It is sacramental. It is not purely spiritual. That is why Lumen Gentium says that the Church is both divine and human; theandric in nature. If you pay attention to the gospel of today, you discover these things very well. His last words were physical, sacramental act, raising his hands and blessing them. He blessed them with his hands, not just his heart, just as he has saved them with his body and blood and not just his mind. And with their naked eyes, not just their mind, they saw him rise into the heavens. A sacrament is “a sign that effects what it signifies.”
Jesus ascended into heaven. He did not drop his material body. He ascended into heaven with it. He wants to teach us that our body is not evil. It must be taken care of. Ascending with our body tells us that there is something of us and our nature that is now incorporated in the divine being. In fact, when the Father looks at Jesus, with this resurrected body, he has mercy on us. Matter is spiritual and that is what Jesus wants to teach us. God can use creation as means to pour his grace into our lives and our world. That is why all the sacraments have an outward sign: Baptism has water. Eucharist has bread and wine. In anointing of the sick, we have oil and laying on of hands on the sick. God is telling us, by ascension, that I have redeemed creation and the whole of creation can become a genuine locus of divine encounter and outpouring of grace.
So, ascension reveals how important matter is to God. The Ascension was not the unfolding of incarnation. Matter is good. Our bodies are good. We must take care of it. God is with us here in creation and that is why he said in the Book of Revelation chapter 21 that I will make a new earth. The whole of creation reveals God. Matter is a sacrament of God.
In the story above, Nicky was not aware of this – that God works through matter; through material objects. He uses them as mediation to come to our aid and answer our prayers. Manna does not fall down from heaven anymore. We have to pay attention to our environment, people around us, events happening around us in the world, they could be channels through which God can speak to us or effect grace in the world.