Between Easter and Pentecost, there comes the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. Jesus the light of the world is taken up bodily into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father. It is the final act of our Lord’s coming among us, and a cause for rejoicing. In the gospel of Luke we hear that after the Ascension the followers of Jesus “returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” (24:52-3)
The Ascension signals the end of Jesus’s earthly ministry and mission. He has come to us, as one of us, and now he completes the circle of his journey by returning to the Father in glory. Jesus was present with us in body and in time, and following the Ascension he is eternally present in all places and at all times.
Although his followers were filled with joy, I can’t help but thinking that the true lovers of Jesus would have felt his absence after the Ascension as keenly as they did after the crucifixion. His leaving them a second time becomes a kind of double bereavement. However, God is teaching his followers to see him not only in the person of Jesus, but in other ways.
After the Ascension, where and how do we see God? To begin with, let us remember how Jesus describes himself. He says, “I am the true shepherd.” Jesus is our faithful shepherd, a new Moses, who leads us through the valley of the shadow of death to the promised land of peace and new life. He says: “I am the Way.” Following the Ascension Jesus inhabits both heaven and earth: as such, he is our trusty guide in both places. He says: “I am the bread of life.” We encounter Jesus again in the sacrament of the Eucharist, as he feeds us with the bread of heaven and the new wine of the kingdom of God. “I am the vine”, Jesus says. “Abide in me as I abide in you.”
We see God in a world being transformed by grace. What does this world, graced by God, look like? If you look closely, you will see it. It is the place where earth and heaven overlap, where the love and mercy of God are seen and witnessed in our prayer, our worship and in our lives. In other words, we are now the body of Christ on earth. How then, do other people see Christ in us? Here are some examples. Have you forgiven another the wrong done to you? There is Jesus present. Do you reach out to a neighbor in need? Do you speak out against injustice and corruption? Are you faithful in worship and prayer? In all of these examples Jesus is present as we share the new life given for us in Jesus’ own self-offering.
Before Jesus ascends to heaven, he makes a promise, that we will receive the Holy Spirit, who will be our advocate and friend. Then, in one sense, will our Easter journey be at an end, and in another sense, will it begin anew. We will enter the circle of those called to live out the gospel life, in a world being transformed by the grace and love of God.
Father David Beresford