The Ascension of the Lord
Ephesians 1:17-23 or Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:19-23
The Ascension Days, Days of Absence, Spirit and Joy
Jesus appears to the disciples after those who met him on the road to Emmaus recount their experience. He eats, shows them his body so they know he is not a ghost; he is really with them. He tells them that he has fulfilled the law, the prophets and the psalms. And ‘he opens their minds to the Scriptures’. Our gospel continues and along with Acts tells the disciples that the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit, will come upon them and they will be witnesses of his dying and rising.
The palate of the Ascension and days that follow, the colors that we will work with are Jesus absence, the waiting for the Spirit, and joy. Our directions are the words of two men dressed in white, who appear standing beside the disciples, ‘Don’t stand there looking up into the sky. The one taken from you into heaven will return’.
On this feast we can look to the dome of some great churches and see the Jesus Pantocrator, Lord of All or more commonly Jesus, at the right hand of the Father. There are many artists’ renderings that show us Jesus rising from the midst of the disciples who surround him, listening to his final words, and of course the famous Ascension where we see the disciples looking up and Jesus’ two feet dangling from the top of the painting! Better than literal renderings, we do well to stick with our palate – absence, Spirit and joy. The readings take us away from Bethany to when we enter a time waiting.
The disciples are a wounded group. Judas has been lost to them. They are nursing their failures, their fear and their fleeing. They had been through the awful experience of human torture, injustice, loss and grieving of a dear, unique friend. True they now experienced him as risen and not a ghost but very much alive in their midst once again. In these days when Jesus has left them they must discuss how something so cruel as the Passion could be redeeming. This experience is indelible for them.
They also at the same time know true joy. Joy must wash over them with a peace, a healing and sense of freedom. They acknowledge as heroes the women of Galilee – faithful in little things, they were heroines faithful to the end with Jesus! Luke loves them. And as they gather praising God ‘continually’ in the temple, they must ask over and over the story of what happened from the disciples who had met Jesus on the road and broke bread with him. What did he say? Tell us again in detail what he did.
Their minds were open to the Scriptures, but these men and women do not become Scripture scholars as we might imagine ourselves today. God’s Word is the love story of God for all of us; God’s working through a Chosen People entrusted with the mystery of God’s love in a unique way. The disciples ponder a new chapter in the love story where God’s love is told anew in the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus. Do they realize they will feature prominent in this story?
Today we can look up and see God’s grandeur in the clouds; we can look up and see art and beauty that speak to us of the story of God’s love for us. The great symbol of God’s love, the Church, are those who make it up, the Body of Christ, all of God’s people made in the image of our God. ‘Don’t look up’ said the men in white. Indeed as we are invited these days to consider absence, Spirit and joy, let us look around us where the One who left us in such a surprising fashion is just as surprisingly to be found. With them we continue our conversation, there we witness.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jamaica, New York.