We proudly call ourselves Christians, people who are sent to “proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” That request came from Jesus himself as he sent his disciples, “to preach everywhere while [he] the Lord worked with them.” We too are sent to face the challenges of our world. We are strengthened by the Spirit and guided by the spiritual voices of the past, as we go into the world to proclaim the gospel. As Catherine of Siena reminded us: “Preach the truth as if you had a million voices, for it is silence that kills the world.”
As the disciples watched Jesus ascend, they must have been filled with grief, feeling like abandoned children left to stare at an empty sky. We have all had that same experience. We have grown accustomed to the presence of others in our lives---people with whom we have been intimately attached, and by whom we have been profoundly changed. We can imagine the emotions of the disciples as Jesus vanished from their sight. Without his presence, they experienced a great loss and a great apprehension about their future.
It was the presence of Jesus in their midst that told them of his great love for them. In Jesus they learned that the Father’s love became real, with hands to touch, ears to listen, a heart to ache and a body to suffer---in love, for love, and because of love. As theologian Karl Rahner explained it: “Jesus gave a name to the cause behind all that exists. He called it his Father, and allowed us also to whisper into the divine darkness, ‘Abba---Daddy---Papa.’ Jesus is the Father’s love, the Father’s mercy, and the Father’s wisdom in their midst.”
The disciples knew that looking at the sky was a lot easier than getting down to the work of changing the world. Sky gazing doesn’t help address the needs of others. Spiritual experiences were important and spiritual leadership was vital, but the time had come for instruction to end and work to begin. Powerfully transformed, the disciples returned “to Jerusalem with great joy.” What a changed group! They were no longer frightened…indecisive…cowering behind locked doors, but now they were on-fire disciples ready to change the world.
The Ascension can be called: “the universal event of salvation history that must reoccur in each believer through grace. It is this mystery of Jesus’ presence in our world 2000 years ago, and his presence in our world here and now that reminds us to strive for a greater, deeper, holiness, not only in church, but (most importantly) in the course of our daily lives. Through the Spirit who calls us to faithfulness and courage each day, Jesus becomes present, and the true celebration of the Ascension becomes evident.
As we celebrate the Ascension, we know we live in a world where affluence blurs the presence of God, making it difficult for the Spirit to strengthen us to change. But that change can occur when we recognize and celebrate the ongoing presence of Jesus and the power of the Spirit to transform and heal even our deepest fears. We accomplish that when we immerse ourselves in the world, taking on its burdens and its sufferings, and calling them our own. We become the Ascension symbol!
God is still present, still calling us and still sending us out into the world. It is rolling-up-our-sleeves time, as we become God’s presence by translating words into works, decisions into deeds, and goals into accomplishments. We become the messengers of God’s Good News and the wisdom figures of our time. And so we pray…“I am your message, Lord. Throw me like a blazing torch into the night, that all may see and understand what it means to be your disciple.” ----Deacon Wilson Shierk