5/29/22 Homily: The Return
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
Sunday's readings can be read: [HERE]
You might recall a few years ago that Hōkūle’a had returned home after her Mālama Honua voyage. For those not familiar, Hōkūle’a is a Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe, sailed using ancient wayfinding techniques of celestial navigation. If you've ever seen the movie, Moana, that's the kind of sailing we're talking about. And near the end of that film there's a deep sea voyaging canoe similar to Hōkūle’a.
On her Mālama Honua voyage, Hōkūle’a had been on a three year mission to circumnavigate the globe, which brought her to more than 150 ports across 23 countries and territories. 245 different crew members helped sail her over 40,000 nautical miles over those three years; and she encountered over 100,000 people throughout the world.
I remember being there at the shore to welcome her home. Thousands of us were together, joyfully and anxiously awaiting her return. Many of us had arrived early, in order to ensure a good viewing spot and we talked story to pass the hours, until a burst of short-range canoes caught our attention as they excitedly darted towards the shore, heralding to us Hōkūle’a’s imminent arrival.
Shortly afterwards, a fleet broke over the horizon. You see, on the final leg of her mission, Hōkūle’a had been joined by other deep sea voyaging canoes—about seven of them—from Hawai’i, Tahiti, and New Zealand.
Then we saw the ever faithful Hikianalia, the sister ship to Hōkūle’a, who had voyaged with her the entire way. She was the immediate forerunner to the ship we'd see next.
Hōkūle’a then came into view, gently gliding towards the shore with proud sails unfurled, bearing the flag of the state of Hawai’i. She was the crown to that great procession u on the waters. And. We. Wept. Because a beloved child of Hawaii had returned home.
Deep calls to deep in the roar of waters, sings the psalmist. And it was true. Shallow emotions have no place among loved ones who have been separated for so long. That drama of separation and reunion was a hint—just a small hint—of that dramatic event of Christ’s return to heaven. We share in the Father’s joy at the return of the Son as we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven.
A very long time ago, a mission had called the Son to come down from heaven; to begin his voyage into our humanity. There was a reason for his departure from heaven; which we recall every time we pray the Creed: for our sake and for our salvation, he came down from heaven.
Once, we were all lost to sin and death; but the Son came down to us. He journeyed across that infinite distance that separates God and man and entered into our human family. As an adult, he began his three-year mission to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God; a message that would begin with the Jews, and then after his ascension be carried by his disciples to every nation and people, of every time and place.
When the appointed time came for him to be sacrificed for our salvation, he destroyed death by his death and restored life by rising from the dead. And when this mission was accomplished, it was finally time to return home to complete that circumnavigation from heaven to earth and back again.
And when he did, he wasn’t alone. With Jesus was an entire fleet of those ancient saints who had long awaited his coming. All of them came from different times and places, all unique and distinct in their own way. But each of them were also united under one flag: the Cross. Their flags were made white in the blood of the Lamb. The gates of heaven had finally been reopened, and the children of the Father had come home.
For his part, the Father wasn’t alone in waiting for his Son’s return. He was joined by all the hosts of heaven: the angels and archangels; thrones and dominions; virtues, powers, principalities, seraphim and cherubim; they all sang the ancient hymn of glory from time immemorial: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts; heaven and earth are full of your glory, Hosanna in the highest!
When the eternal Father and the Son saw each other again, face to face, the eternal Love between them—the Holy Spirit—burst forth in a light that pierces every darkness. Heaven itself could not contain such a light, which overflowed and filled all of creation—renewing creation with pure and perfect grace.
We remember this mystery on this Solemnity of the Ascension, but in truth, we celebrate this mystery at every single Mass. Here, we truly share in the Father’s joy at the return of the Son. At every Mass, the Son comes down to take his place upon this altar, transforming ordinary bread and wine into himself, so that there is no longer bread and wine, but only Jesus Christ. And in receiving the Eucharist, we become one body, one Spirit in Christ, through whom we ascend to the Father in spirit.
This happens sacramentally in the Mass. But it also foreshadows the final glory to which we all are called. By the grace of God, we all are called to one day journey back to our true homeland, to the birthplace of all grace. At the eternal shore, we will be greeted by all the angels and saints, and all of our loved ones who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith. With the Father and the Son, they eagerly, joyfully, and patiently await our return.
Christi Himmelfahrt by Gebhard Fugel, c. 1893 [public domain]