We can understand and feel the joy of Christmas and of Easter, and the excitement of Pentecost. But Ascension seems a “sad” feast. Wouldn’t it be nice if Jesus remained forever with us? If we could see the Risen Jesus appearing to us every now and then? But Ascension signals the end of Jesus’ physical appearances to us. At the Ascension, Jesus seems to go up, up, and away until the end of time. We perceive Ascension as “the rising of Jesus to join his Father”. But that doesn’t make sense! God is not “outside” the world. He contains the world in his mind. And he is everywhere in the world. He is in the world as the one giving existence and life to all. If Jesus had started an intergalactic journey toward the other limits of the world, he would today be only at the edge of our galaxy, the Milky Way, supposing that this was travelling at the speed of light for the last 2000 years. And he would still have to travel fourteen billion years to reach the ultimate frontiers of the universe. But God is not a supreme being outside the world. He came personally into the world and took flesh from the Virgin Mary.
Do I believe that the apostles saw Jesus rising and disappearing into a cloud? Yes! What message did Jesus want to convey by doing that?
Firstly, he wanted to show us that he is going back to the Father with “something” he didn’t have when he came down from heaven – a human nature, body and soul. He is telling us that he will never abandon his human nature. He will not throw it away, like an old coat. His human heart will always beat for us. Even after the second coming, in the world without end.
Secondly, Jesus is giving us an assurance that we, too, can enter into the heart of the Father if we only keep united to him. Indeed, Jesus is the head of the body, the head of the Church and where the head has passed, the members will follow. And we are the members of the Church body.
Thirdly, Jesus is telling us that he can be present even with his body, in the same way that God is present everywhere. His Risen Body has acquired this capacity. And this makes the Eucharistic Presence possible. And he says explicitly in the last verse of today’s Gospel, “Remember, I am with your always, to the end of the age”. (Matthew 28:20)
That is a cause for rejoicing!
God bless you,