Today is the day when we recall Jesus’ Ascension from this world, back into his Father’s heavenly presence.
On the surface, we are hearing no more than that – we are present, through the words of scripture, at Jesus’ departure from this world.
But, for the disciples who were actually there, it would seem that so much more was going on.
Following the moment when Jesus withdrew and was carried up into heaven, we do not read of the disciples being left in sorrow or mourning at the loss of their Lord.
Rather, we read that they worshipped him, and then we read of how they returned to Jerusalem with great joy.
As we read on in scripture – as we journey from the end of Luke’s gospel and on into the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles – we still do not find ourselves journeying with the sorrowful and the despairing.
Instead, we see the disciples taking up the ministry of Jesus – even to the point of enduring the same harsh treatment that had been meted out to him.
Furthermore, we do not just read of lives lived out in a spirit of stoic resolution – rather, we read of lives lived out in response to Jesus’ call to love and serve; and through those loving and serving lives we witness the proclamation of the living presence of the risen and ascended Jesus.
Jesus’ Ascension was not experienced as a parting.
Yes, Jesus was taken from his disciples’ sight, but there was no sense of Jesus being absent.
As we read deeper into the Acts of the Apostles, we discover that this sense of Jesus’ living presence was being experienced by all those who were newly baptized into Christ’s newly-born Church.
Jesus did not go off to be alone, and to appear as the mood took him.
- Jesus is ever present;
- Jesus is ever washing our feet in humble service;
- Jesus is ever feeding us with his most precious body and blood;
- Jesus is ever interceding for us and for the whole world.
Just as the joy of the ever-present Jesus filled the hearts of those early disciples, so it can fill our hearts – if we let it!
The biggest problem we have with the Ascension is that we think of heaven as being another place. Jesus ascends to heaven – surely it is logical that heaven must be another place!
But – that is not what the narrative is telling us. In Luke’s gospel the kingdom of God is not portrayed as a different place, but rather as God’s future breaking into our present, through Christ’s death and resurrection.
When we proclaim our faith in the Ascended One, we are proclaiming that – despite the events that seem to contradict it – we can see and participate in the future reign of God, with Jesus, in the here and now.
We experience, in our everyday lives, not the absence of Jesus, but his real and life-transforming presence.
The wondrous mystery of the Ascension is that, because Jesus goes to God’s future ahead of us, then there is no place in our journey where Jesus is not waiting to greet us.
There is tremendous hope in the Ascension of Jesus.
Because our future is now safely in Jesus’ hands, we can face the challenges of today with greater courage, hope and dignity.
The Ascension is the assurance that the battle is over, and that it has been won.
- We are free to live in a new reality.
- We are free to live for others in a world that has yet to fully comprehend the good news.
- We are free to experience the loving embrace of the Jesus who is, was, and always will be with us.
- We are free to join those first disciples as we journey on with great joy, and as we continually bless God. Amen.