Separation and contentment
On the Feast of the Ascension, Peter Gallagher reflects on the feeling of separation of the discipleship and on the mission Jesus leaves us as He rises to the Father.
Now as Jesus blessed them, he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven. Blushingly, we own up to having often distanced ourselves from Jesus. As sinners, we frequently separate ourselves from him. In an unsatisfactory way, it seems almost normal that we sometimes glide away from our Saviour. However, that the Lord should ascend away from us seems less easy to treat as normal. Jesus is meant to be faithful to us and to be present to us: we do not expect him to depart. Having risen from the dead, he should now stay with us and help us, should he not? We need him.
Our worship asserts the presence of Jesus Christ in our life and in our world. Does the Ascension compromise this presence? He withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven. On the feast of the Ascension we celebrate the way in which the Lord is leading the way into eternal life. Where Jesus has gone we will follow. We want to live now in the hope of sharing the wonderful life of heaven with him.
Too far away?
The Ascension withdrawal continues to disturb us as it once alarmed the disciples. For the Lord himself the Ascension is a return to the Father. It is a rising to where he can be worshipped as God. The Ascension is a kind of enthronement. However, for the earthly friends of Jesus there is in his coronation also an abandonment. Is our king now too far above us? Are his celestial concerns too different from our mundane ones? Are there grounds of our feeling neglected, on our own and unsupported?
We disciples have each other, it is true. The community of faith, the Church, is the body of Christ still present with us. We have the Spirit and we will shortly celebrate the renewal of that wonderful possession at Pentecost. Grateful as we are for the Holy Spirit, his presence can seem to be being bought at the high price of Jesus’ absence. Worried that Jesus seems not be with us, the Holy Spirit reminds of the ways in which he is still with us. We are reminded too of what he is doing for us in the court of heaven, in the presence of the Father.
A call to maturity
Our separating ourselves from him makes us blush. The apparent withdrawal from us of the one we love is very worrying. The Ascension is a call to maturity. Jesus has left us not alone and he has given us work to do. We step forward from our regrets and our anxieties to meet our responsibilities. We are tasked with sharing our faith in Jesus with all nations and persons. The Lord ascending has entrusted much to us, including ourselves. We look forward to what comes next even though it is also important to remember all that God has done for us and how we have responded in the past. Our faith in the risen Lord who returns to the Father is no opiate to make us giddy with a contrived happiness or to anaesthetise us against pain.
We are to be Christians. We are to imitate Christ. We are to be Jesus’ hands in the world. There is joy in this. The ascending Lord leaves us to find the happiness of service for ourselves. Contentment is yet another gift from God. Freely and maturely, we accept the joy he gives us. We give thanks for what has been given and for what has been taken away.
Peter Gallagher SJ