sky gazing

May 12, 2024


Across Aotearoa last night, in every part of the country from north to south and as far east as the Chathams, people were gazing into the sky, many woken by calls and texts from friends with the message this is worth waking up and getting up for.

When away from home as I am in these weeks, Social Media does make it easy to stay connected with what is happening at home and this morning here in the US I woke to a flood of friends’ Southern Lights images from across the motu.

Thanks Annette for your pic.

My first task for this morning is to put the finishing touches for my homily for this weekend’s Feast of the Ascension, and the Aurora images are a perfect inspiration.

Here’s what I’m thinking.

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 waving farewell from below as they gaze upward.

This is an unhelpful image if it leaves us experiencing a separation from Jesus as we might naturally feel at the departure of one we love.

So this morning I’m thinking that last night in Aotearoa there would not have been one person gazing into the sky who was wishing they were up there in the sky, because the ground of the earth provided the perfect viewing platform.

Here we were fully connected, immersed in what was happening, and even chatting about what we were together witnessing, with perhaps normally distant or unfriendly neighbours over the fence or across the street, and sharing the beauty of what were witnessing.

Last night’s cosmic event was not perceived to be far away with us wishing we were up there. But we were somehow more here and now and more connected with the Transcendent, with each other and with the cosmos because of what we were witnessing in the skies.

It’s likely that many homilies given for today’s Feast of the Ascension will focus on departure of Jesus so that the Holy Spirit can arrive.

Perhaps this focus misses the point that the disciples of Jesus were not at all sad as they gazed to the skies witnessing the Ascension.

Luke’s gospel makes the point of reporting that the immediately after the Ascension of Jesus the disciples returned to Jerusalem “with great joy” (Luke 24:50).

It is clear that from the moment of their experience of the resurrection of Jesus, every moment, even the difficult moments which would be in their future, required and enabled the deepening of their joy and the maturation of their faith, even (and perhaps especially) the experiences that we might normally think of as departures and separations.

I have never seen this more clearly presented than in Pope Benedict’s book Jesus of Nazareth. It is well worth setting aside five minutes to ponder:

“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 exulted” 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   pp 283.284

Jesus of Nazareth Part II



  1. I pray John that you will have experienced the same joy as we down under seeing the Glory of God revealed in your northern skies.
    The heavens are telling the Glory of God!

  2. What an amazing experience last night. To see the beauty of the Southern lights filled my heart with joy. How wonderful our God is!


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