This Sunday we celebrate the feast of the Ascension. The ascension brings the mission of Jesus to a close. It gives us a bit of respite, the chance to look back and reflect before moving ahead. How often, after the death of someone loved and admired, we are renewed in reviewing his or her life. So too the disciples in prayer had their moment of silent reflection. But Jesus, true to form, moves our attention forward as well. We are not to spend excessive time gazing heavenward. He will not leave us orphans. And so he reminds us, as we reflect on his life and teaching, to prepare ourselves for the next phase of God’s interaction with the world. This is the meaning of Jesus’ refusal to answer directly the question of the disciples in today’s first reading about when he was going to restore the kingdom to Israel. He tells them not to focus on such questions, but to concentrate on their mission, which will begin when they are clothed in the power of the Holy Spirit, to preach the gospel to all nations. And the two men in white, who appear to the apostles at the end of the first reading, tell them not to waste time staring into the sky. Jesus WILL be returning at some point in time, but for now we have work to do for the kingdom of God.
Pentecost is on the horizon. Memory and hope are two vital features of the religious experience- a leavetaking with a promise.