May 12, 2013
HE, GOING AWAY; WE, KEEPING TO HIS WAY!
From the human viewpoint, Jesus’ death was a failure, a defeat. But God’s viewpoint, not ours, had the final say in the end. He rose from the dead. Today, God puts a definite period to this saga of seeming defeat. He ascends into heaven. In glory. In triumph. In joy. The Gospel of today tells us thus: “They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.” (Lk 24:53)
This image of disciples going their merry, grateful way is a far cry from the two disciples dejected and destined toward their Emmaus of despondency, no more than 40 days before.
I would like to think of the Ascension of the Lord, among other things, as an image of the Lord’s going away … He takes leave of his beloved disciples. Physically, that is, not not much more. He says good-bye to them, but this is one good-bye that is not associated with sadness, and definitely not one that puts a definitive stop to whatever He taught, shared, lived, and showed.
What did he teach? What did he share, live, and show? Let us hear it direct from him: “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
Now, this is getting interesting. Is he going away or not? Obviously, he is … to sit at the right hand of the Father, and to prepare a place for us. But will he really go away and be lost, for as they say, “out of sight is out of mind?”
Today’s feast – together with all three readings – show us that he is going away, yes … but there is something that will continue to take place till the end of time. His absence does not mean being totally and fully away and distant from the people that he journeyed with, that he became a man for. His absence, really, is a new form of presence – a presence that now takes place in and through the hearts and minds and hands of us believers and disciples. For God “put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.”
Ascension has nothing to do with absence, but with presence. In a new way. In a different level. In a new mysterious, but no less real, way.
I would like to think that this is what the Acts of the Apostles is telling us. He may be away, but we are told to keep to his way: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
This is one good-bye that is true to its name – good. This is one parting that entails no permanent departing. This is a taking leave of someone in which no one is asked and expected to leave all hope outside the door. On the contrary, it is a going away, so that we all could keep to his saving and salvific ways, as we journey on toward heaven, our only true home. Amen!