Ascension

Most people think of the Ascension of Jesus as being a ‘departure’ moment. Jesus was here and now he is gone. We imagine Jesus going up into the clouds and the disciples watching and waving from below. This is an unhelpful image.

It is essential that we understand what does happen and what does not happen in the Ascension event.  It would be easy to wrongly think that in his ministry showed us how to build the city of God on earth, and now he has gone and the mission is left to us.

Our mission is always Jesus’ mission. HE is the missionary. We are the loved servants. We are the tenderly embraced instruments.

True liberation is instigated and gifted by God. When humans respond and co-operate with this divine initiative, real freedom becomes an earthly reality.It is only when we relax into God’s love for us, and the enduring and intimate presence of Jesus with us in every situation and every moment, that we become effective disciples of the Master Missionary.

We are never alone. Jesus is with us.

Because of the event of the Ascension and Pentecost (which we celebrate next Sunday), Jesus is with us even more intimately. When we live in intimate relationship with him, our efforts bear fruit.

I have never seen this more clearly presented than in Pope Benedict’s book Jesus of Nazareth.

As we celebrate this weekend’s Feast of the Ascension of the Lord I invite you to set aside some time to savour these excerpts from his reflections.

Pope Benedict    “Jesus of Nazareth Part Two”

“Let us turn, then, to the end of Luke’s Gospel. Here it is recounted that Jesus appears to the Apostles gathered in Jerusalem, who have just been joined by the two disciples from Emmaus. He eats with them and issues instructions. The closing lines of the Gospel are as follows: “then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessings God” (Luke 24:50=53)

“The conclusion surprises us. Luke says that the disciples were full of joy at the Lord’s definitive departure. We would have expected the opposite. We would have expected them to be left perplexed and sad. The world was unchanged, and Jesus had gone definitively. They had received a commission that seemed impossible to carry out and lay well beyond their powers. How were they to present themselves to the people in Jerusalem, in Israel, in the whole world, saying: “This Jesus, who seemed to have failed, is actually the redeemer of us all”? Every parting causes sadness. Even if it was as one now living that Jesus had left them, how could his definitive separation from them not make them sad? And yet it is written that they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, blessing God. How are we to understand this?

“In any case, it follows that the disciples do not feel abandoned. They do not consider Jesus to have disappeared far away into an inaccessible heaven. They are obviously convinced of a new presence of Jesus. They are certain (as the risen Lord said in Saint Matthew’s account) that he is now present to them in a new and powerful way. They know that “the right hand of God” to which he “has been exaulted” includes a new manner of his presence; they know that he is now permanently among them, in the way that only God can be close to us.

“The joy of the disciples after the “Ascension” corrects our image of this event. “Ascension” does not mean departure into a remote region of the cosmos but, rather, the continuing closeness that the disciples experience so strongly that it becomes a source of lasting joy. pp.280-281

“the departing Jesus does not make his way to some distant star. He enters into communion of power and life with the living God, into God’s dominion over space. Hence he has not “gone away”, but now and forever by God’s own power he is present with us and for us. In the farewell discourses of Saint John’s Gospel, this is exactly what Jesus says to his disciples: “I go away, and I will come to you” (John 14:28). These words sum up beautifully what is so special about Jesus’ “going away”, which is also his “coming”, and at the same time they explain the mystery of the Cross, the Resurrection, and the Ascension. His going away is in this sense a coming, a new form of closeness, of continuing presence, which for John, too, is linked with the “joy” that we saw in Luke’s Gospel.

“Because Jesus is with the Father, he has not gone away but remains close to us. Now he is no longer in one particular place in the world as he had been before the “Ascension”: now, through his power over space, he is present and accessible to all-throughout history and in every place   pp283-284

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“Let us return once more to the ending of Luke’s Gospel. Jesus led his followers into the vicinity of Bethany, we are told. “Lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven” (24:50-51). Jesus departs in the act of blessing. He goes while blessing, and he remains in that gesture of blessing. His hands remain stretched out over the world. The blessing hands of Christ are like a roof that protects us. But at the same time, they are a gesture of opening up, tearing the world open so that heaven may enter in, may become “present” within it.

“The gesture of hands outstretched in blessing expressed Jesus’ continuing relationship to his disciples, to the world. In departing, he comes to us, in order to raise us up above ourselves and to open up the world to God. This is why the disciples could return home from Bethany rejoicing. In faith we know that Jesus holds his hands stretched out in blessing over us. That is the lasting motive of Christian joy.   pp292-29

10 Responses to "Ascension"
  1. Wow! That is refreshing!

    I love the image of Jesus, hands out ‘blessing’ but also ‘parting’, ‘opening’, so there’s now room for a special link of heaven and earth.

    I hope I see future ‘de-parting’ as just that – a ‘parting’ so the relationship is actually stronger.

  2. Christ be with me, Christ within me,
    Christ behind me, Christ before me,
    Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
    Christ to comfort and restore me.
    Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
    Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
    Christ in hearts of all that love me,
    Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

  3. Thank you Father John.your teachings have shone such beautiful light in these dark times.God blesses you and all his children.

  4. I had to keep rereading to begin to understand and I’m sure it’ll continue to make even more sense to read the above again and again! Thank you so much father!

  5. Thanks for the great understanding of Jesus ‘s leaving. It reminded me of one of our family saying when leaving home in sadness if I don’t go I can’t come back and that thought was comforting just as Jesus will always be back as we desire.

  6. This is such an important understanding of the Ascension. If we ask small children in our Catholic schools, “Why did Jesus die on the cross?”
    they will say with confidence, “So he could be everywhere at once.”

  7. This must be why I never get a sense of age or antiquity when reading scripture or thinking of Jesus, because I know I can talk to him whenever I want. Not like reading the magna carta for instance, where the weight of ages is readily felt, whereas reading an old bible does not have this feeling as it is the same as my bible at home. Jesus is therefor not only master of space but time as well, which makes him our contemporary.

  8. During this time of lockdown I felt the very real presence of God with me every step of the way I understand in the fibre of my being that we don’t seek God above but within and without Emanuel God with us through it all

  9. Thankyou Father John for you on going work you do for us and the prayers you say on our behalf as l.have asked of you as so needed dealing with my metal health God bless you also Amen

  10. Thankyou Heavenly Father”
    “Three in One”
    Linked Eternally,
    A perpetual gift,thou
    Gave the world,so as to
    “FIND,RECIEVE
    HIS
    EVERLASTING JOY

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