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GETTING CLOSE TO GOD
What is an “assumption?” An “assumption” occurs when God takes a person physically into heaven. When one is “assumed,” one encounters God and comes into God’s presence without death. On August 15, many Christians celebrate the Assumption of Our Lady in Glory. Yes, I know it’s not in the Bible as a historical event like the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. But let’s leave aside that debate. The real question for Christians is how the concept of “assumption” impacts our relationship with God. The Bible contains two “assumptions,” both of which contain practical implications for Christians.
Genesis 5 identifies Enoch as a direct descendant of Adam through his son, Seth. The family tree is: Adam – Seth – Enosh – Kenan – Mahalalel – Jared – Enoch. In Genesis 5:24, we read, “Then Enoch walked with God, and he was no longer there, for God took him,” This happened because, according to Hebrews 11:5, “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was found no more because God had taken him. Before he was taken up, he was attested to have pleased God.” Canonical scripture tells us nothing about how Enoch pleased God, but the apocryphal Secrets of Enoch provides a detailed description of how God instructed Enoch to impart to his sons certain pearls of wisdom: to refrain from malice directed against other persons, to help the injured and condemned, raise the broken down, and do charity to the needy, lest they encounter perdition on Judgment Day. These thoughts are consistent with Jesus’ teachings found in Matthew 25:31-46 concerning caring for those in need and what might happen to those who do not. Enoch also influenced the New Testament; in the Epistle of Jude, the author quotes the First Book of Enoch painting a picture of God executing judgment on evildoers, described as, “complainers, disgruntled persons who live by their desires, their mouths uttering bombast as they fawn over people to gain advantage.” While these passages are often quoted to justify judgmental assessments of those who don’t practice Christianity, we should remember it’s God’s prerogative to judge others, not ours. More on point for us is that Enoch’s message as quoted by Jude flies in the face of our capitalistic society which promotes self-interest as a most desirable human trait.
The doings of the prophet Elijah are recounted in detail in 1 Kings, but for us moderns, one incident communicates some things never change. Israel had a king named Ahab, who departed from the faith by encouraging worship of false gods, Baal in particular. At that time, Israel suffered famine due to drought. Elijah arranged for two altars, one to the God of Israel another to Baal. Slaughtered oxen are laid on both. The priests of Baal pray for hours for their god to light the sacrificial fire, to no avail. Elijah orders the altar to the God of Israel soaked with water. Elijah calls on the God of Israel to ignite the sacrifice, and fire falls from heaven on to the altar. Elijah then prays for rain, which soon falls, ending the famine. In 2 Kings 2, the prophet Elijah knew God was calling him home and sought to leave his legacy to Elisha to carry on his work. Elisha, however, keeps asking Elijah, “stay here please.” As they were journeying from the Jordan river, Elisha asks Elijah to receive a double portion of his spirit. Elijah responds that if Elisha sees Elijah taken up from him, Elisha’s wish will be granted. As they continued speaking to one another, a flaming chariot came down and took Elijah in a whirlwind to heaven. The connection between Elijah and Jesus came at the Transfiguration, recounted in Matthew at 17:1-9, Mark at 9:2-8, Luke at 9:28-36, where Jesus’ appearance changed to “dazzling white” and Elijah himself appeared along with Moses. Peter, James and John, who had accompanied Jesus, suggested making three tents, one for Jesus, one for Elijah, and one for Moses. God responded by commanding, “this is my Beloved Son, listen to him.”
For Roman Catholics, belief in the Assumption of Mary is a “required” doctrine, but other churches make it optional for individuals, to believe – or not believe – in the Assumption of Mary. For example, in typical, ambiguous Anglican fashion, the 1979 Prayerbook Collect for the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15 alludes to the possibility of an assumption but does not explicitly state it: “O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom.” What is not subject to reasonable dispute is the close relationship between Mary and Jesus. He took human form from her body. That God would want Mary close after her earthly life is not unreasonable; God chose Mary as “theotokos”, that is, “God Bearer,” to place Jesus among us as human, making possible his life as that person who would reconcile us to God by his message. This reconciliation was necessary because humankind sinned. The number one sin was putting other people, places and things instead of or secondary to God. Throughout the Old Testament, as the story of Elijah illustrates, we continually read that the people of Israel engaged in idolatry and turned to other gods. Although we don’t erect altars to Baal, this same sin continues today. For example, some Christians think it’s OK to miss Mass because some relative has come to visit. Or maybe we decide to use our discretionary income for entertainment when we are behind on our Church pledge. As Christians, we have choices. We can choose to enhance and affirm our relationship with God, or we can adopt the prevailing secularism as our daily program. Is it closeness to our material goods and earthly concerns that we value, or is it our relationship with God?
It was through an “assumption” that Enoch, Elijah, and maybe Mary, were brought into a closer relationship with God. Whether or not we, or anyone, will be “assumed” into heaven in the future instead of dying is unknown, but we can allow God to figuratively assume our souls and bodies for a close relationship by not only listening to Jesus’ words, but doing them.