I want to talk about adoption today! Most of us know someone who has adopted children or has been adopted, and for most adopted children it’s a good experience, so much better than the alternative they might have been faced with. Now you might wonder what adoption has got to do with our celebration of the Ascension! Well that’s what I hope to demonstrate, if you stay with me. You see adoption in the ancient world was even more significant than it is now. Indeed, a rich person, even the Roman Emperor himself, could adopt not only a child but also an adult, and once adopted that adult’s life would be changed for ever. Nowadays we tend to go on about the importance of the link with the natural birth mother, but in the ancient world, what mattered was where you were going, not where you had come from.
And that’s the point you see. The Ascension is not just about where Jesus is going, but about where we are going too. You will hear it in a number of the prayers that the priest says at Mass today. I prayed “the Ascension of Christ.. is our exaltation” and I will pray that “we too may rise up to the heavenly realms.” Now, as you know, that’s not a promise that we will suddenly float upwards when we die; it is an assertion that when we die we will be taken fully into the eternal and spiritual dimension that we call heaven, a dimension that we can only sense now, because we are principally physical. This is our promised destiny, because of what God has done in and through Jesus for the world.
But how does this work? How can what Jesus does actually affect us? How does his death on the cross actually change things for us, and (most relevant today) how does his Resurrection and Ascension draw us into heaven? Now we might say “Well it just does, and that’s it.” But we are meant to ask questions about our faith, and to at least attempt to explain it to others, and this is where the idea of adoption comes in.
Now the idea isn’t mine. It comes from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans. He writes :- “Those who are led by the Spirit of Godare the children of God. The Spirityou received does not make you slaves…… rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:14-16)
What St Paul is trying to demonstrate is the mysterious way in which we humans are drawn into union with God through Jesus. He says that he makes us members of his family. Of course, as we are part of God’s creation we have a certain unity with God from our birth; but unlike the rest of creation, the animals and birds and plants, who are one with God without any conscious effort, we have been given the ability to actually have a conscious unity with God. We are therefore aware that we are not just physical but also spiritual. We love, we hope, we imagine, we remember, and that is what, at our best, makes us decide what to do. We do not do things simply because of physical urges or instincts, but because we consciously think about things and make decisions. But that gift can also be a curse, because it means we can choose to do evil as well as good.
How then can we be rescued from ourselves, from what we might be without God, on a downward spiral into selfishness and greed? The answer is that we are given the chance of being brought back, not just into a unity with God but into something even higher, which we call “union with God”. God chooses to enter into our humanity, as Jesus, and then, through the worst that humans can experience, suffering and death, and through the marvel of new life beyond death, makes us members of his family, makes us his adopted sons and daughters. Then, in that union with Jesus our brother, and in union with one another, we are made ready to be drawn from the death, that we must all experience, into eternal life with and in God. There, we are raised to our full potential. There all our mistakes and follies are driven away by God’s fatherly love.
In the end, that is what it means to be a Christian. Having faith does not mean believing in lots of things, it simply means accepting that God in and through Jesus has adopted us as his sons and daughters. As his children, as brothers and sisters of Jesus, we have full rights as his heirs to inherit what he has inherited, and because of this we must try to live up to what, through adoption, we have become.