The Ascension answers our question, “If Jesus was raised from the dead, where is he now?” It feels like just as Jesus, and the reassurance that life overcomes death, was within our reach, “the holy” moves beyond our reach. The Ascension creates a longing in us. In intensifies our wanting to be with Jesus, the one we love so much.
So, why must “the holy” disappear from our midst? Why does the Ascension seem so magical? Our religious imagination moves into overdrive with a movie-like image of Jesus rising up into the sky on a cloud and his Apostles craning their necks to see him. He Ascended body and soul, but what type of body and where did it go? The Ascension seems to create more questions than answers. What is all of this longing about anyway? What is true presence? What is absence? If we can’t see the body of Jesus, how can we still know and love him?
The Ascension pulls our attention upward to the heavens. I think this indicates that we must set our sights high in order to reach within our own lives toward the holy. It is as if there is an invisible thread connecting our hearts to Jesus, this thread is strengthened by prayer and attention.
In various mystical traditions it is the longing itself that is the connection we share with the divine. What if our longing for God is the response from God? Do you think it is possible for God to be longing for you as much as you long for God?
Let us look at the word, “Belong.” When we belong to a group, our longing for connection is fulfilled in being in the group. When we belong there is a sense of certainty that we are in the right place. In the Catholic faith tradition, we belong through our Baptism. We gather and nurture this belonging in our faith community, which is called “the Mystical Body of Christ.” Here as members of the Body of Christ, we are fed spiritual food in the Eucharist and through this belonging we receive special gifts through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are anointed and strengthened to live with spiritual gifts. We are first loved, fed , nurtured, and then sent out to share the Good News as we invite others into this belonging.
What do we long for? What is our heart’s desire? Affirmation, acceptance, unconditional love, joy, peace, and connection. As humans we long to be loved perfectly. Unfortunately, this is an imperfect world; friends, family, even our faith community will sometimes let us down. Ultimately we begin to understand that the only place we can find true connection is in the arms of God.
In the meantime, God gives us each other to belong to, to practice with, and to love. God gives us many forms of love to share, experience, and extend to others. Whenever we feel love, we can be assured that this is just a taste of what the love of God feels like.
As Catholics we often don’t talk enough about a personal relationship with Jesus. Perhaps the Ascension is one of these reasons as Jesus can seem so far off and lofty. What if the Ascension is inviting us to reach for Jesus? What if it is meant to have us strive to meet him through our prayers and attention and action? We may understand in our minds that we are saved by the Grace of God. But, if we keep our heads in the clouds, looking for the dream of Jesus, we miss out on the opportunity to act in his name. We forget that he modeled for us how to live in this world. Eventually, we have to turn our heads back down to Earth so that our necks don’t get sore. After the Apostles witnessed the Ascension, they moved into action. If Jesus had remained physically visible, is it possible that he would have been an Idol? Instead, he Ascends and transforms before our eyes and challenges us to ascend ourselves and help transform the world. We do this by living as members of Christ’s body.
The longing brings us into connection and then once we belong we feel secure and receive the food, the gifts, the communal strength needed to act. The practice of loving is what really matters. If we stay stuck in the longing we are paralyzed, impotent, and find we can not act. It is in the practice of loving that love is fulfilled. It is the practice of living as disciples that we help to build up the reign of God. Belonging leads to practice and practice leads to deeper belonging. First we belong, then we pray. First we belong, then we serve and give. First we belong, and then we want to learn more, so that we may do it all better. Our actions alone do not save us. It is because we are saved, because we belong, because we are living in God’s Grace that we are compelled to act.
We know we are practicing discipleship well by the fruit of our lives. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” – Galatians 5:22-23
In The Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells the Apostles to “…go and make disciples of all nations, and to teach them to observe all of his commands.” Jesus wants us to share the Good News with the generations to come. Through Baptism we embody kinship with Christ as children of God and are called into discipleship. We are to live as a new creation with integrity and love.
Where is Jesus now? “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”