One of the greatest writers in the canon of Western literature wrote this about approaching death: “[A]s I approach death nearer I feel like a voyager at last in sight of land and on the point of reaching harbor after a long journey” (Cicero, On Old Age, #19). Such descriptive language is beautifully poetic. Also, in a haunting way it expresses a hope that this superb thinker of the pagan world would have found difficult to resolve because he died approximately two score years before Jesus Christ (43 B.C.).
In a sublime way a Christian must find hope in the Ascension. Our Lord’s ascent to heaven is a glorious part of the Paschal Mystery that we relive throughout the Easter Season and in our sacramental celebrations. Our Lord’s last words spoken to the remaining Apostles were these: “But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). These are words of hope. They say the Lord will be with you, the Holy Spirit will come to you, you are my witnesses because I live, and the message is not merely a consoling sermon preached by a gifted speaker but a powerful presence, spreading throughout the entire world.
When the Lord ascends, divine messengers challenge the startled Apostles. “Men of Galilee,” they say to them, “why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven” (Acts 1:11). There is life in that message. Jesus Christ lives, and we live because of Him. The harbor is not the end of the journey. It is only the beginning. The voyage was merely the prelude. He will return. Our Lord Jesus Christ defeated death.