If asked what we miss most at this time, our response would probably include physical contact. We need touch in our lives because we are bodily beings and we relate most intimately through the warmth of a handshake, the casual pat on the back, and the hugs and kisses that express and affirm the love that grows and strengthens us in family life and relationships and keeps us confident in who we are.
Sometimes I feel a bit flat when the Easter Season is over. I miss the great energy in the Scripture readings on Sundays and weekdays, particularly the development and experience of the Early Church in Acts where we witness the apostles and followers engaging with the remarkable message of Jesus and his Resurrection. The Ascension of Jesus marks his return to his Father but it reminds us of his bodily absence too. No doubt, the disciples also missed Jesus.
On our journey of Faith we need to experience Jesus’ presence, to know him in our daily lives. Recall St Peter’s words from last Sunday’s 2nd reading, ‘Reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts’ – and the invitation in faith for us to reverence the Lord Christ in the hearts of others too, as they do in us. I sense that we ‘understand’ what this means because it describes the depth which our Faith can reach. Jesus’ Ascension allowed the disciples to grow in faith and it can help us to understand where our faith sits in the overall scheme of things.
In the first few centuries of the Church, celebration of the Ascension as a distinct feast was unknown. While the ‘40 days’ has a broad theological significance, the actual dating of the Ascension 40 days after the Resurrection is found only in the Acts of the Apostles. Taking Jesus’ own words, we believe that he returned to the Father but the time and manner remain a mystery. The Synoptic Gospel accounts are not clear and it is quite possible that the Ascension occurred on Easter Day. Eventually, the Church accepted the universal observance of the Ascension which in some countries is celebrated on Thursday and is a Holy Day of Obligation.
In this post-Easter period, we also celebrate the Coming of the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, and the Body and Blood of Christ – great realities that are at the heart of our faith in the presence of Jesus. Just as the Ascension was an important moment of growth for the disciples, this experience is very much part of our lives when loved ones die or depart for a lengthy period. We wonder how we will manage without the intimacy of their physical presence – but, hard as it is, we do eventually manage, don’t we?
With Jesus, there is always something more, something new. When we ‘let him go’, his presence in our lives becomes even more profound – in our hearts, in our neighbour, in the Body of Christ, in his Word, in the Eucharist.
The gift of Jesus is not for us to hold on to in a grasping way but a gift to be shared. Recall the question of the two men in white to the apostles in Acts 1:10, ‘Why are you men from Galilee standing here looking into the sky?’ Jesus has returned to the Father but his living presence is here and now. What are we looking at? What do we see?