“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
The Ascension always baffles me. I picture the scene in which Jesus is sort of like Superman pushing off to fly up, up and away. Sorta like this maybe:
The truth of our tradition is that the Ascension is nothing like this. First of all it lends itself to the superstition that we live in a “three story universe,” which lends itself to a good story.
When we were building BustedHalo.com in the early days we consulted with a great web company, but we argued about the name of the website initially. One of the names that they were trying to sell us on was 90degreeturn.com.
The owner of the company explained: “Your site is all about discernment, about young people making crucial decisions. When you’re making those decisions you don’t want to go 180 degrees, because then you’re going BACKWARDS. You just need to make some small adjustments, a turn to the left, or to the right maybe, about 90 degrees.”
I know I eyerolled.
“No-no, stay with me now. What if you went 90 degrees….UP? Now! Now, you’re going in the direction that God wants you to go.”
I ended the meeting for lunch and was super frustrated. So I talked with a great Paulist, who has now gone to the great beyond, Fr. Bob Moran, C.S.P. and after I reviewed the details of the above story, he remarked:
“Does this guy really think God’s up there? The Russian cosmonauts proved that wrong LONG AGO!”
I snorted out my lunchtime diet coke and told Fr. Bob that he was the man and could no longer do anything wrong in my eyes after giving me that line.
But his point is actually at the heart of our scripture readings for the Feast of the Ascension today. If Jesus promises that he will be with us always, how can he also be skyward above our heads, presumably separate from us? He’s not. And in the first reading the two men in white garments even chastise the disciples:
“Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?”
They might as well have said, “He’s not there you morons!” But the point is more to get the disciples to understand what Jesus says in the Gospel:
“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
In these times, we might want to take those words to heart, because it sure seems to some like God is no place to be found. That’s far from the truth, but hard to fathom for many these days.
Our God doesn’t abandon us. And so the message of the Ascension is not that Jesus rises to the clouds, but rather, it is that Jesus took on our human suffering in order to redeem that suffering for us ultimately. If that’s true, then we are called to rise up with him and move into the spaces where we can bring the presence of God into the lives of those who are most in need.
And there’s no shortage of those people lately.
But perhaps even more intentionally, we are also called to creativity, which was another recent post on this blog. We’re called to reach beyond time and space to others. It’s the call of the great commission to go and make disciples of ALL nations (this includes those who seek our shores on the border and those countries who need us to help them in their own sufferings). How might we creatively go beyond our parochial boundaries and offer Jesus to ALL? I think most of the time, I just want to horde Jesus for myself?
Today let’s not fall prey to thinking that the end of the Jesus story stops with the Ascension and now he’s gone for good. Instead, let’s remember that we are called to help others believe that Jesus is present for all and that his ascension is just the start of what will ultimately be our reward as well.