Loss is an integral part of the human experience, and death is generally the most painful experience of loss. Today’s Feast of the Ascension invites us to face this experience of loss in a transformative way.
In Ordinary Time, we celebrate the life and ministry of Jesus. Over the period of Lent and Easter, we have been re-membering his death and resurrection. As we come towards the end of the Easter season, the liturgy draws us into another aspect of the Mystery, that of the presence and absence of the Risen One.
The Lukan Ascension stories, in both the first reading and the gospel, presuppose a pre-scientific, three-tiered understanding of the structure of the world. In this ancient view, God is in the heavens above and the prophet Jesus, like the prophet Elijah of old, is caught up into God’s realm from whence the Holy Spirit will ‘descend’ upon God’s people and ‘clothe’ them with power.
The vertical (up and down) movement is balanced by a horizontal movement: Jesus’ family and friends who grieve the loss of their loved one are told not to keep looking up to the heavens.
They have work to do: strengthened by his blessing, they are to stay in the city for the present and be empowered by the Holy Spirit to continue the prophetic ministry of Jesus, to be witnesses to his death and resurrection.
They have to face the fact that the physical loss of Jesus means a new and different sort of presence and that they have a role to play in making him present in their world. Like us, the early Christians needed time to grasp each dimension of the one great Mystery of God’s life in their midst.
Veronica Lawson RSM