Today is a bitter sweet memory in the life of the Church. The Gospels are very dramatic in their telling of the Good News of Jesus Christ. We have just listened at the end of the Gospel according to St Luke, to the account of the Ascension of Jesus. You can picture yourself there. Luke, who is the consummate narrator, easily helps us to witness to Jesus being carried up to heaven. Of all the Gospel accounts, it is Luke’s which helps us to visualise the scene before us.
We’ve been taken by Jesus to the outskirts of Bethany. I’ve been there, to the rock where history records Our Lord was taken up to Heaven. There’s an imprint, perhaps even of a foot. Who knows? Perhaps it’s the actual spot. Whether it is the spot or not, we know it’s a real historical event. You can picture Jesus and his disciples, they’ve climbed the hill, now is the time. He raises his hands, a little like the priest does at the end of every Mass, and he blesses them.
As he withdraws, what do you think? How must Peter have felt? The Lord has gone. When you think of all that the Lord had done for these simple folk and now he seems to have left them. What about Thomas, or James, or John. Think about Mary, his mother, or about Mary Magdalene. From the depth of the sorrow of his death to the unimaginable joy of his resurrection and now back again to loss; it doesn’t bear thinking about and yet we must.
They say once bitten, twice shy so perhaps the disciples were ready for Jesus going a second time; we just don’t know. What we do know, however, is that the first loss was brought about by men in a devastating and brutal fashion. This second loss is completely different. Immediately that Jesus is taken up there are not one buy two men in white to reassure these men from Galilee. This same Jesus, they say, will come back in the same way.
Christ has gone, this time, not into the tomb, rather into Heaven where he can plead at the right hand of God on our behalf. He is the high priest who now pleads incessantly for us before the throne. No wonder the disciples were rejoicing. If ever you wanted someone to fight your corner, then he’s your man!
It’s not just that Christ intercedes for us, however, that leads to our celebration. Like the psalmist entreats us: clap your hands, cry to God with shouts of joy! Sing praise for God, sing praise. Sing praise with all your skill, but that’s another story. Let’s not talk of me singing! Rather let’s talk of what Jesus promises to his disciples and to us. Now I am sending down to you what the Father has promised: The power from on high. He will send, of course, the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
So we can see that the Ascension is for us a bitter sweet remembrance. We lose, seemingly, the body of Jesus up to some mysterious cloud and yet at the same time we are gifted with all that we need: The Holy Spirit. It’s going to be a little like waiting for all our birthdays and all our Christmas’ all rolled into one over the next week as we await the descent of the Holy Spirit.
The drama of Holy Week right concludes in these final triumphant days of Easter. He is Risen, alleluia, alleluia! might rightly be transformed into He is Ascended, alleluia, alleluia! So let us, like those first disciples, worship him, return to Jerusalem full of joy and be continually in the Temple praising God.
Oh, we’re already here! Praise God in his holy Temple. Sing praise with all your skill.(The photo is the rock of the Ascension and the hand of a very holy priest in Wolverhampton!)