In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles for this year's Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord, the disciples were anxious for answers. They asked, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" They thought "the promise of the Father" would bring about an age of political sovereignty such as the nation had enjoyed under the reign of King David. But Jesus' answer made clear that this is not what the promise is all about.
Neither would the promise give them a glimpse of the eschaton, for "it is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set" for the end of time. The promise was not going to make their lives easier by restoring national dominance or by granting divine insight; it was, in fact, destined to "muddy the waters" of their baptisms. When they received the Spirit they too, would be baptized in fire. They would be empowered to take on the role of Christ: to teach and to nourish and to serve; to be ignored and to hunger and to die.
After speaking, Jesus was lifted up into the heavens before his friends. Just imagine the awesomeness of this scene! How does it feel to watch their Lord and Master leave? The angels' words to the "men of Galilee" 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."
Jesus disappeared from bodily view. 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.
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.
Today’s feast teaches us a profound lesson about possessing and being possessed. Through his Ascension, Jesus shows that clinging to him in time and history serves no purpose. Nor does he cling to the human beings around him, unwilling to let them go free in order to continue their Gospel mission. Rather, his whole life, death and resurrection teach us to accept everyone and everything as a gift, on loan to us. It is not good to cling tightly to relationships or to hoard earthly treasures.
On this feast let us learn to revere all that we have with deep gratitude, and hold everything in open hands. Let us reflect on the symbol of open hands. During our times of prayer, let us open our hands and surrender all the important treasures and relationships of our lives to God.
Do we experience any obstacles in letting go and giving everyone and everything to God? This week let us be aware of our feelings toward others, and toward the things we have. Are we joyful? Anxious? Sad? Afraid? Let us share these feelings with God. Let us spend time expressing our gratitude to God for each gift and relationship. And most of all, let us find some concrete ways to express our love and gratitude to people we often take for granted, including Jesus.