Ascension Day 2017


On Easter Day two men in dazzling clothes suddenly appeared to the women at the empty tomb and said to them, "Why look among the dead for one who is alive? He is not here; he is risen." On Ascension Day two men in white suddenly appear beside the disciples and say to them, "Men of Galilee, why are you standing here looking up into the sky?" You can't see him and you won't find him. Jesus has been taken up from you into heaven. The women at Easter and the disciples today look for Jesus where he can't be found. Confused and perplexed at getting it wrong, they obey what the angels say. The women run off to tell the disciples that Christ is risen and has gone before them to Galilee, while the disciples stop looking at the sky and, remembering the words of Jesus, return to Jerusalem to await the coming of the Holy Spirit, the power from on high, who will transform them into witnesses of their Risen Lord.
There's an important lesson for us here. We get confused and worry at our own lack of knowledge and understanding, by our recurring doubts and fears, and by those of our loved ones. The disciples and the women who followed Jesus and loved him have been there before us. The chaos in our minds and the inadequacy of our faith, as we see it, are in fact part and parcel of the rich tapestry of faith, that faith which is known to God alone and for which we will not be condemned, if we but seek God with a sincere heart. God wants us to be enriched and transfigured by our friendship with Christ, for where he is, there we belong.
There are two promises associated with the Ascension. First of all, Jesus himself tells his disciples that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on them. "Then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem, but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth." They will receive new life and energy with the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, when the great adventure of proclaiming the Gospel begins in an extraordinary and living-giving way. In the preaching of the Gospel, the Spirit of the Risen Lord will not only transform the lives of those who hear the word of truth, but the lives and the faith of the apostles as well, of those who preach the Gospel and witness to it by the integrity of their lives.
The second promise is made by the two men in white. "This same Jesus will come back in the same way as you have seen him go into heaven." Jesus, the Risen Christ, will not only live in their hearts with the coming of the Holy Spirit, but he will return at the end of time to establish once and for all the Kingdom of God, for which we work and pray on earth, so we must await his return.
In these two promises we discover the vitality of Christian faith, the tension between the present and the future, the seen and the unseen, the known and the hoped for, the need to give witness to Christ here and now and the conviction that he has called us to be with him forever. This was the very tension the disciples felt, for they wanted to keep on looking up into the sky for an another glimpse of their beloved Lord, while Jesus himself had told them to get on with it, to begin the great mission of proclaiming the Gospel to the ends of the earth. This is the tension we experience today, not a tension that leads to chaos and despair, but a tension that fills us with energy and enthusiasm and gives meaning and purpose to our lives. It is a tension that gives rise to a deeper life of prayer on the one hand and a stronger commitment to witness to Jesus Christ and the truth of the Gospel on the other.
Let us then thank God for what he has given us today. To Him alone be all glory, honour, love and devotion, now and forever. Amen.