The Ascension of the Lord - 13th May, 2018

Liturgical Reflection

Acts 1:1–11; Ps 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9; 2 Eph 1:17–23; Mk 16:15–20


What is strikingly absent from today’s stories of the Ascension is any hint of grief on the apostles’ part. To be sure, there is much about the narratives and their traditional interpretation to argue that grief would have been neither a natural nor an appropriate response. There was the dramatic character of the event, not to mention words that seem—at least in the translation that we heard this morning—to offer the apostles hope that Jesus would soon come back down. A brief consultation with his heavenly father, perhaps, a bit of intercession—look, Dad, I know you weren’t planning this, but why not free them from the Romans now?—and then the cloud will descend, and Jesus will step off it just as if he were getting off the bus and coming home for tea. Throw in the correction provided by the Gospel reading—He’s gone to share his father’s glory in the heavens—and the question “Weren’t they sad?” is revealed for what it is—an attempt to misappropriate a tale of the supernal for the comfort zone of our own feelings.

That said, if we imagine such an elevation befalling the people who most represent the face of God in our own lives, we may conclude that sadness would have been natural after all. In a hearse or on a cloud, either way our loving mentor’s gone, and whatever promise of reunion faith may offer, it’s going to be a long time off.

Although the apostles could have been forgiven for moping, that’s the opposite of what they did. The hope that they were given explicitly was not of the return of the familiar, but of the advent of the new. In the physical realm, strange things would happen—they would fearlessly pick up snakes with their bare hands. That was the image they could understand—what was unknown and mysterious was this power of the Holy Spirit that would come on them and launch them on their great adventure, their mission to Earth’s farthest bounds. Empowered by the Ascension vision and the Pentecostal miracle, they just set out and got on with the job.

So the Ascension was the great beginning, not the magnificent end. Next time a hearse or cloud removes a humbling and inspiring presence from our lives, will we hear the call to set out on beginning?