This Sunday, we celebrate the feast of the Ascension of Jesus Christ. At the end of Luke’s gospel, we read that after Jesus left them and was carried up to heaven, the apostles went back to Jerusalem “with great joy“!! (Luke 24:52). This was their great friend, the most wonderful person they had ever known, who had turned their lives upside down. How could they have been so happy to see him go?
In my youth, there was a pop song called “Reasons to be Cheerful – One, Two, Three ” In line with the sentiments of that song, I am going to give you three reasons why the apostles could be so cheerful to see Jesus go, and why we, also, can celebrate this feast of the Ascension with great joy:
(1) Although Jesus has left us, He is with us always. Jesus says to his disciples, at the end of our gospel this Sunday “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). How does this make sense in the light of his disappearing into the clouds away from them? The answer comes with the repeated promises by Jesus that he would send them the Holy Spirit to be with them forever (John 14:16). The Spirit becomes the new mode of Jesus’ presence with his disciples, and thus with each one of us. Through the Spirit, we now “carry” Jesus within us. Wherever we are, there He is. This is why Jesus can make the promise he does in John 14:18: “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” Through our baptism, the Spirit of Jesus enters us and transforms our “ophan” spirit into the spirit of an adopted son or daughter, able to cry out to God “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8: 15) “So the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and therefore, not only children, but heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8: 16-17). None of us need fear being alone ever again!
(2) Although we are separated from Jesus, we are always with Him. Another paradox (by the way, a paradox is not the same as a contradiction!): Our second reading this Sunday, from Ephesians 1: 17-23), says that God has raised Jesus from the dead “and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (v.20). But only a little further on from there, at chapter 2, verse 6, Paul tells us that God “has raised US up with Jesus and seated US with him in the heavenly places.” If Jesus is seated at the right hand of God in glory, then so, in God’s eyes, are we. This means that whenever God looks at Jesus, he sees us , united with him so closely, through our baptism, that we form one “body” (Ephesians 1:23) . It would be grotesque for a head to be separated from its body. It would be similarly “grotesque” to imagine Jesus, our Head, separated from us, His body. The single most stunning revelation for Paul, on the road to Damascus to persecute some more Christians, was to meet Christ in a vision and have Him say to Paul “Why are you persecuting me ?” (Acts 9:4) Not “why are you persecuting my followers?” but “why are you persecuting ME?!!” Jesus so totally identifies with each one of us, as a member of His Body, that an attack on any one of us , is an attack on Him.
(3) Although Jesus has sent us out on our own, He goes with us. At the end of Mark’s gospel, we are told that, after Jesus had sent out his disciples to “preach the gospel to the whole of creation” (Mark 16: 15), nevertheless, He continued to “work with them, and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it“(16:20). We are not left on our own to convince the world of the truth about Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus himself, through the miracles he works in answer to our prayers, continues to show the world that He is very much alive. “You ask me how I know He lives; He lives within my heart.”
Happy Ascension Day!!