The angels' words to the "men of Galilee" in today's first reading are painfully blunt and leave little room for misinterpretation: "Why do you stand here looking up at the skies? This Jesus who has been taken from you will return, just as you saw him go up to the heavens." As Jesus disappeared, he didn’t simply dissolve into thin air. He cast off limitations that he had voluntarily taken on himself. But for us that means that he has left us here as orphans! Or has he?
On the day of his Ascension, one might conclude that Jesus removed himself into a new form of divine exclusion. The case is exactly the opposite. In God, Jesus is "here" in a new and very specific way. Only in his physical separation from the historical scene can his spiritual union with all the world for all time be complete. Jesus left the world one day in order to be available to all people throughout all time. He had to dissolve bonds he had made with his friends, in order to be available for everybody. In Jesus, the future has already begun!
In his “ascension” Jesus made a commitment to the earth that we live in. His footprints are not etched for tourists to view in the stone beneath us. But they are visible in the hearts of those who follow him. As he gave up the ability to be present in one place, he gained the capability of being present in a thousand places. When Jesus vanished, he filled the earth with the presence of God. God’s presence is still here and is available for us as the ultimate fulfillment of all our dreams. We know that we move towards heaven to the extent that we approach Jesus. We are assured that he hasn't ever stopped being present with us throughout all time. And through us he wants to become even more present, especially as his Church.
The mysterious feast of the Ascension reminds us that Christ accepts our lack of self-confidence in ourselves. He accepts the shadowy and dark areas of our humanity. He accepts our capacity for deceit, betrayal, greed and power. And having accepted us, he calls us, gives us the eternal commission to be his people, and sends us to serve him and love him, in spite of ourselves and because of ourselves.
In Sunday's first reading from Acts, Jesus' disciples are given a last bit of instruction. "Don't keep trying to stare into the future. Don't be overly concerned about which hour he will come back." We must not stand idly staring up into the heavens and moaning about the past, about which we can do nothing, except to bury it deeply in God's hands and heart!
The Lord will be glorified, and it follows that his disciples will also share in his glory. Let's get going and carry a piece of heaven into the world. This is the meaning of the Resurrection and the Ascension of our Lord, not one of divine abandonment of the human cause, but divine empowerment of the Gospel dream! May Christ's dying and rising move us to make God's glory dwell on earth. May our hope for the future inspire us in a respect for the present moment. May the desire for the heavenly realities not make us neglect our work on earth.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.,
C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation
-View Fr. Rosica’s Easter Reflections online by clicking HERE.