Note: Although many churches will celebrate the Ascension of Christ on Thursday, the 40th day of Easter, other churches will move this celebration to Sunday. Our notes this week therefore are focused on the gospel for the Ascension.
To us humans Ascension seems almost like a celebration of the Lord’s absence. The framers of the liturgical calendar and lectionary surely did not intend us to celebrate such an “unpious” experience as absence! The days’ focus is supposed to be the great commission to “make disciples of all the nations,” but we often identify more with the disciples who stood there gazing up at the sky, wondering what to do next, and those few disciples who had “entertained doubts” seem more familiar than a rush to go out and save the world. What we experience by different names and at different times are the distractions at prayer, the shouting out for God in a world bent on destruction and the grieving for the anonymous ones who die in someone else’s war.
The feast of the Ascension of the Lord may just be the most truthful feast of the year for us, in a way similar to how Saint Jude, patron of lost causes, is one saint most of us get to know. If we can point to the times in our life when the Lord seems absent or distant, then what can we expect from this feast? What would bring us here and what would give us something to live on beyond this moment? We seem to be best at recognizing the absence of the Lord, the empty tomb. Or, like the Galilee disciples, we spend a lot of time looking up at the sky, chanting, “Where are you now?” What we really need help with is recognizing the Lord’s presence, always.
This celebration of the Lord’s absence gives us the chance to stand on the mountain top admitting to one another our experience of missing the Lord. But beyond being an opportunity for us to concede that we are not very good at recognizing the presence of Jesus, the celebration of the Ascension also affirms our hope that some day, maybe even today for some of us, we will receive the insight to “know him clearly.” That the God of so many promises, we will discover, has kept the pledge to be among us always. That one day, as out of the blue, the Lord will be as close and as real to us as the bread and wine we share here. And on that day we will look back on all our longing, all our calling and searching of the horizon, and we will know our faith was not in vain. [Blair Gilmer Meeks, "The Healing Word," Homily Service, 38.6 (May 2005): 18-19.]
Blair Gilmer Meeks is a writer living in Brentwood, Tennessee, and a former staff member of The Liturgical Conference.