Today, in most dioceses, we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord, in which we mark the time, most notably recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, when Jesus ascends into heaven out of sight of the disciples. As I was reflecting on this, I found myself wrestling with the question, “Why did Jesus have to go?” I wonder if the disciples, looking up at the sky, trying to get that last glimpse of Jesus, were asking the same thing.
Our faith tells us that Jesus had to ascend and return to the Father in order that the Holy Spirit would be sent. But did Jesus have to leave for that to happen? This is where I can tie myself up in knots. But I wonder if this, as in all things, was an act of God’s love for us. Jesus’ ascension was not an act of rejection, which it might have been if it had been me when the apostles asked Him if He was going to restore the kingdom to Israel (Hadn’t they been paying attention?). It was not an act of leaving us on our own. Thanks be to God! But I wonder if it might have been that the Son of God Incarnate had been lifted up from our midst because of God’s commitment to our free will. From now on, we had to trust in Him without seeing Him. We had to choose to love God and surrender our will to Him in complete freedom, to the point where God risked the fact that a lot of people would come to the conclusion that they didn’t need to believe in God any more.
The following analogy is far from perfect, but since in the U.S. we are also celebrating Mother’s Day, I think what I am talking about is akin to a mother of adult children. The mother still cares for her children, still worries about them, still wants to warn them of the consequences of unwise decisions, but yet knows that in loving her children she can no longer try to control the important aspects of their lives. The time for that has passed, and that is as it should be. God has never stopped loving us. God continually calls us closer to Himself, but God never forces God’s self on us. I say the analogy is imperfect because in my relationship to God I realize that I still depend on God’s grace and love, and when I am willing to surrender to God’s will, I find the peace for which I am looking.
And the more we are willing to surrender our will to God, the more the signs of which Jesus speaks in our Gospel reading can be realized: We can help drive out the “demons” of addiction and poverty and hopelessness and injustice. We can speak “new languages” (AISI – look it up, I had to). We can confront the “serpent” of greed and the “poisons” of lust and bigotry, and not be overcome by them.
We don’t have to keep looking up at the sky, wishing that Jesus was here in the flesh. We can instead live true to ourselves, knowing that Jesus is with us always. We can work together and with people of good will for the building up of the kingdom.
In the Risen and Ascended Christ,
Fr. Phil, CP