Feast of Ascension – PRESENCE IN ABSENCE

Feast of Ascension

Acts 1: 1-11                              Heb. 9: 24-28, 10: 19-23                       Lk. 24: 46-53



“Jesus withdrew from our eyes that we might return to our own heart to find him” – St. Augustine


Various religious traditions affirm that there have lived human beings who enjoyed a very intimate relationship with God – an intimate relationship that culminated in their whole being along with their body being taken upto heaven. Their relationship with God was so strong that they were able to transcend death itself, the most merciless and invincible adversary of humanity. With this faith, people believe that these saintly people are alive in heaven, and will make their appearance at the end of time. For example, Quran says that Muhammad ascended to heaven. Similarly in the Bible we read about the ascension of Enoch (Gen. 5: 24) and of Elijah (2 Kg. 2: 11).

Jesus’ ascension is bit different from that of the above human beings, since his ascension was not the result of his intimate relationship with God, but because he is God himself. So, in the case of Jesus, ascension was not the result of his intimate relationship with God, but going back to the place from where he came.

Ascension: Not Absence, But Presence:

Jesus’ ascension does not mean that he went away from this world. This sort of understanding was the result of Jewish three-tier cosmology, according to which, heaven is up there, and hell is down, and between these two lies the world, in which we live. But this type of cosmology does not hold water any more.  Today’s science questions it. According to the present understanding of science, the cosmos is continuously expanding. No heaven up there. Similarly if we, people who are in India, dig into the earth, will reach America, not hell. So when we say that Jesus ascended to heaven, we simply affirm that he moved from one dimension to another dimension, from gross and visible dimension to a subtle and invisible dimension.

It is said that the world in which we live has got many dimensions. Buddhists believe that there are 37 dimensions – from very gross to very subtle. Each dimension constitutes a ‘world’. So far it was thought that this world was only three dimensional which are in our daily experience. However the science today tells us that there are many other dimensions which are not in our experience. There is a scientific theory called Superstring Theory which posits that there are ten different dimensions in the universe. The three dimensions in our experience are concerned with material and visible realities. Others dimensions are more subtle and more invisible.

One day in a catechism class, the teacher asked the students how it is possible that God could be in heaven and in the world at the same time. The students discussed this for a while, and finally little Johnny got up and said, “It’s probably this way: God’s private room is in heaven and his office is in the world.” If we still hold on to the traditional understanding of Ascension, it is very difficult to reconcile Jesus’ ascension to heaven and his presence in the world. However the above understanding of various dimensions would solve this problem.

If we closely observe the readings today, we can understand that there is a close connection between the disappearance of Jesus in the visible realm and his reappearance in the spiritual realm. These are two sides of the same coin. Before ascension, Jesus’ presence was very much localized. Through the ascension Jesus has made himself present everywhere all the time. Karl Rahner, a great theologian, considered ascension to be a celebration of Christ’s presence, not absence. St. Augustine put across this point more poetically when he said, “Jesus withdrew from our eyes that we might return to our own heart to find him.” While he has entered into and is present in ‘heaven’ (a higher dimension of life) he is also here and now. Being in ‘heaven’ he entreats God for human being. Being here and now he prepares human being for God by washing off their sins (second reading).

Ascension: Challenges:

Feast of the Ascension…..

-invites us to go for a deeper, more intimate relationship with God. This deep, intimate relationship, first of all helps us to transcend all that is physical and  mundane, including  death.

-encourages us to experience the invisible and subtle presence of God, which we otherwise don’t experience. When we experience this subtle presence of God, we will have more power and strength to withstand the pressures of life.

-challenges us to be the witnesses of Jesus’ life and his message. Christian life is like a relay race. Jesus started his race by holding the baton of announcing the Good News. At the end of his life, he handed over the baton to his disciples. Now it has come to our hand. It is our duty and privilege to carry it on diligently and carefully for the betterment of ourselves and of the world.

About the Author