The hills are alive with witness

WelCom May 2022 This year, the dates of the Ascension of Jesus and the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth are within two days of each other: Sunday 29 May and…

WelCom May 2022

This year, the dates of the Ascension of Jesus and the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth are within two days of each other: Sunday 29 May and Tuesday 31 May. Their closeness invites reflection on their similarities, especially their connection with mountains!

James B Lyons

Photo: Unsplash

The mountain is honoured in religious folklore everywhere; none more so than in our Judeo-Christian world view. Its height gives it a certain isolation, making it a symbolic point of contact between heaven and earth.

From Abraham and Sarah, finding confidence to venture into the unknown on Mount Horeb, to Moses keeping company with God on Mount Sinai, to Jesus opening his mission with the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, his transfiguration on Mount Tabor, agonising on the Mount of Olives and crucified on Mount Calvary, mountains and hills have star roles in our faith drama.

Because of this significance and of Jesus’ practice of praying and teaching ‘in high places’ his ascension is usually pictured as happening in a similar environment.

‘The eleven disciples set our for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them.’ [Matthew 28:16]

Mary’s journey to visit Elizabeth took her ‘to a Judean town in the hill country’ [Luke 1:39]. In her pregnancy she was carrying the gift of the world’s salvation.

The Ascension climaxed the work of teaching the Apostles. Following the Resurrection, Jesus had explained the scriptures to them and how the prophecies related to himself.

Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary showed she recognised the gift Mary carried, awakening the child in her own womb to the same revelation.

Jesus’ parting words to his disciples are words of mission: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…’ [Matthew 29:19]. Mary has anticipated the order, her presence creating disciples of Elizabeth and her unborn child.

The unborn child would become John the Baptist and his own witness would spark the interest of some of his friends, Andrew and John, who would be among the first disciples of Jesus [cf John 1:35].

Mary’s Magnificat [Luke 1:46-55], spoken in response to Elizabeth’s recognition of the dignity bestowed on her, echoes the ministry of mercy and the holiness of God in Jesus. Mary intuitively identifies the destiny of the child in her womb: He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.

Jesus ‘ascended’ to the heights, Mary ‘descended’ from the hill country, returning to her home to await the birth of Jesus with Joseph at her side.

The disciples, having experienced the Ascension, would begin their ‘visitation’, already modelled by Mary, carrying Jesus to the world.

Mary’s conviction that the Lord has done great things for me, gave purpose to her visiting Elizabeth. 

The Ascension of Jesus was his affirmation of the goodness of God and his own love for the world he would never leave.

With that same conviction, you and I must continue carrying Jesus into every place and life we visit, no matter what mountains are in the way.