“This weekend we celebrate the Ascension; it used to be celebrated on a Thursday, but that was changed to make things easier. The Bible tells us that 40 days after Easter, after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, he returned to his heavenly father. He does that for a simple, clear reason, which he explains to his close friends, the disciples, who are with him at the end:
Behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.
In a scene that almost sounds comical, we read in the Ascension story, the Bible tells us:
As they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.
While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them, They said, “Men of Galilee,why are you standing there looking at the sky?”
I guess you and I would stare too. It’s quite a scene. Quite a finale, it would seem. But it only seemed so.
It is in the nature of God to be present: Present to his creation and to his people to whom he gives life and love. This nature of God echoes from the Garden of Eden to the slavery of Egypt, from the Mountain of Sinai to the manger of Bethlehem. The whole story of the Bible is a story of God’s presence.
And in Jesus Christ, the presence of God is complete and eternal: He is never separated from the flesh he took from his mother and in the flesh which he shares with us in the Eucharist, he is absolutely present.
At first glance, the Ascension appears to contradict this fact, because it seems to be commemorating Christ’s departure from his friends as the introduction of an absence where there had been a presence. But the Ascension is not about the Lord’s absence, there is always and everywhere following the Ascension a presence. The Ascension and the subsequent gift of the Holy Spirit introduces a pervasive presence that characterizes the life of the Church moving forward.
This might all sound inscrutable to explain (which it is) and impossible to understand (which it’s not). It’s so simple a child can understand it. The Lord’s promise to be with us always is simple enough for a child to understand because it is as children that we come to know what a pervasive presence feels like, from our mother. Even before we ever even see her face to face, we are deep in her presence. In our mother’s womb, our mother is wholly present, giving us life and love.
The Ascension of the Lord Jesus and, in fact, the whole season of Easter (which this feast brings to a close) is our annual celebration of God’s gift of life and love. And this year, that celebration comes to a close on Mother’s Day. And that is quite fitting to celebrate both, together.
Happy Mother’s Day!