Feast of Ascension
FEAST OF ASCENSION
Acts 1: 1-11 Eph. 1: 17-23 Mk. 16: 15-20
Theme: By ascending to heaven, Jesus’ presence has become more universal, at the same time very personal.
Buddha was at deathbed. He was about to die and all his disciples stood around him. His foremost disciple Ananda was full of tears. He bemoaned, “it is a shocking thing for all of us that you are going to depart us. Personally it would be a very great loss for me. I have not yet realized myself. I am not sure whether I’ll ever be enlightened at all after your death.” (It is to be noted that Ananda got enlightenment only after the death of Buddha.) Buddha, hearing all these things, slowly opened his eyes and gently told him, “Ananda, why are you so distressed? I’m telling you once again what I have told you earlier ‘Be unto your light’. I can’t be a light for you.”
Well! This little incident is just to point out how Jesus is much different from any other religious figure of this world. All religious founders, except Jesus, pointed out the right way of living and emphasized that it was the prerogative of the followers to walk in that path. But Jesus was much different. Besides pointing out the right way of living, he has also assured us of his ever-abiding presence with us in walking that path. Today’s feast as well as readings underscore this message.
On the one hand, it looks like that Jesus, by ascending to heaven, moved away from the earth and thus from humanity. But on the other hand, St. Paul says that Jesus ascended far above all the heavens so that he might fill all things” (Eph. 4: 10). In other words, St. Paul points out that Jesus, by moving away from us, comes closer to everything and everybody. It is indeed a paradox! The gospel of today confirms this paradox. On the one hand, we see Jesus being taken up into heaven and sitting down at the right hand of God. However Mark continues to write that the Lord, who moved away from them, “worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.” (Vs. 20). Let us try to unravel the meaning and implications of this paradox.
The above problem arises when we understand the ascension of Jesus in terms of places, namely Jesus moved away from the earth and entered into heaven. In stead if we try to understand the fact of ascension from the perspective of dimension – namely Jesus moved from one dimension (or realm) to another, to be more precise, Jesus moved from the visible dimension to the invisible dimension – then there is no much of problem.
When Jesus was in the visible dimension, he was physically seen and empirically touched by others, and his presence was very tangible. But one problem with the physical dimension is that it is restricted by space and time. So Jesus, by being present in the visible and physical dimension, namely by having a body, was restricted by space and time. Anything or anybody, that is restricted by space and time, has got its/one’s boundary and limitations. Thus its/one’s accessibility is also limited.
When it is said that Jesus ascended from earth to heaven, it should be understood that he moved away from a domain that has got the constraints of space and time, and entered into a domain that has no boundaries and limitations. Thus his accessibility has become more universal and personal.
After ascension, Jesus’ presence has become more universal and closer to us that his presence in the bodily self. The feast of ascension informs us that Jesus is present with us at this moment and at this place. His presence is as real as it was 2000 years back. The only difference between the Jesus of Nazareth who lived 2000 years back and the Christ who is present with us, is the realm / dimension in which he exists. It is the invisible Jesus that we are called to experience today. It is this invisible, ascended Jesus who is ready to empower us, to work with us.
The feast of ascension invites us to experience the invisible presence of Jesus and express it through our daily life. That is the meaning of being witnesses to Jesus, which the first reading talks about. Luke in the first reading gives us Jesus’ last discourse to his disciples. He ends his discourse with the line, “you will be my witnesses.”
Christians, in general, can be categorized into three groups. Some are like sailboats. They just go with the wind. They don’t have the courage to fight against the currents of time and fashion. The amount of motivation and exhortation they receive from pulpit and other means don’t make them better witnesses. They are quite happy with doing the minimum for Christ and satisfied in going with the current. Some others are like rowboats. When paddled, they go to a certain extent in the desired direction. These people, when exhorted, take their Christian vocation seriously and act on it. But they get discouraged or bored soon and don’t go far. Very few are like steam engines. All that is needed is to trigger the engine in them and they go very far. These people, when being filled with the powerful presence of Jesus, don’t have any hesitation in witnessing Christ wherever they are.
Loving Father, may we realize that you are always with us and for us, Amen.