Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord: 16 May 2021
1. Carrying with us Jesus' continuous presence
"Invisibility" and "departing" seem to be the two words, which we have been experiencing during this second wave of the Corona pandemic. Many of our dear and close relatives, friends, colleagues, collaborators, etc. are becoming so quickly invisible to our eyes as the savage illness mercilessly taking lives including the young ones. I believe that the mood of the disciples on that day of their master's ascension into heaven must be similar. Jesus who was physically present with them for many years is no more. Jesus returns to his Father in heaven, in other words, Jesus departs from the earth. The reading does not tell us the mood of the disciples when they saw Jesus disappearing from their midst. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that two angels appeared to the disciples and assured of his Second Coming as the way he was taken up. They carried a promise along with them with the mission that was given by Jesus “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).
Certainly, when the disciples descended from the mountain they carried along with them Jesus and his mission. When they were ascending to the mountain they were not sure whether they would carry back home Jesus with them. Every ascending has a purpose and every descending has a mission. The very early Patristic Fathers like St. Ireneaus and St. Athanasius would describe Christ’s descending as revealer and the revelation of God in this way: “God became human so that human might be divine.” Christ’s descend into the world had a purpose so that we may ascend to Him, to His Father. To put it in Greek words Christ’s kenosis or self-emptying led to humans' theosis or divinization. To live that divine life we must receive the Holy Spirit. Christ divinized creation in the Ascension and we are already living as the Body of Christ. We have already been swept up into salvation. As the last sentence of Mark's Gospel tells us so vividly that Jesus continued to be present with us even after his ascension: "they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs" (Mark 16:20).
2. With the right image of God, we may experience His continuous presence
This idea of Christ’s ascension into heaven and his mission to his disciples is a challenge and opportunity for us. The story did not end with the empty tomb, or with Jesus’ appearances to the Apostles over the course of forty days. It is also a fresh beginning for a life with a bright future for his disciples to imitate Christ more resolutely and convincingly. Because every baptized person is given a mission to proclaim Christ. But the question is how big is your God. Often our understanding of God is materialistic. Strangely, it so happens that our God does not grow the way we grow or according to our age. Sometimes our understanding of God remains just as that of first communion God or primary school God, or an adolescent God. Has your God changed since your childhood, since communion? Is your God is different from the last year? Often we think about our God as we visualize other things in this world. However, God is bigger and infinite. We never question the "big-ness" of our God that we carry.
Look at the life of the disciples. As the scripture says they walked with him for three years in the length and breadth of Israel. In the beginning, Jesus, for his disciples was, like a magician, or performer of things. They see two fish and three loaves of bread suddenly 5,000 people are fed with surprise. Just by a command, the water turns into wine at the wedding party of Cana. Judas Iscariot after having dined freely with Jesus considers him to be a best piece to be sold to the city council of Jews. Whereas Peter who said that he is even ready to die for Christ denies him thrice at a crucial moment of Jesus’s life. Thomas does not even know that, Jesus does what he says, thus never understands the resurrection of Jesus until he puts his fingers into his Master's wounds.
Our God must be bigger than what we think usually. Only when we consider our God is bigger, then all those little things that hurt us do not matter when I am discriminated against, misunderstood, overlooked for following Jesus? We don’t have to feel ashamed to follow what we believe in Jesus and proclaim Christ in our families, to our friends, neighbours, colleagues in our working places. In fact, I am called, even here, to a deep and personal commitment; to solidarity even though I may be receiving rejection in return.
3. Being in friendship with Jesus
An Indian mystic Sant Kabir says I laughed when the fish in the water said I am thirsty. It is easier to understand this fish in the water say I am thirsty than to a person not knowing God. God is closer to humans than water to the fish. We are immersed in the immensity of the divine. We are embraced and hovered by the breadth of divinity around us.
Maybe on this ascension Sunday we need to ask this question how big is our God, How big is our understanding of Jesus after attending all the Eucharists, reading scriptures and meditating upon them? How have I grown in friendship with Jesus? Friendship with Jesus means being with him and being sent in his name. My mission as his follower is amid the difficulties of the world. As it was for him, so it is for me. Though I may not know my mission fully, I trust in the Lord’s prayer for me that I am both sanctified and sent by him.
Indian poet Tagore says, every child that is born into this world brings a message that God still continues to love us. The word Theophilus that we heard in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us the same thing; Theo means God, filia means to love; the God, who loves us. Perhaps on this day, we may try to multiply the effects of love in our hearts and homes so that we may truly become friends of Jesus, carrying his continuous presence amongst us.
Questions for reflections:
1. Jesus' ascension into heaven is an end but also a beginning for his disciples. As you pray now what is coming to an end for you?
2. Perhaps, the Easter Season must have been a blessing or mourning for you due to the things that have happened to you in the last few weeks. What you want to thank God for? What you want to ask for His strength in order to come over the ordeal or pain?
3. And what about beginnings? What do you have to say about what God has done for you? How are you going to speak about it to those in your world?
4. ‘The Lord worked with them’. You are not alone. Jesus continues to be with the disciples, and with us, through the Holy Spirit. What is God’s Spirit making possible in you at this moment? What is the Spirit saying as it leads you out today, as you walk, or stand, or sit here right now?
Gracious God, often I may not be able to understand you but you gave me the grace to continue to live my life in you. Lord, do not take me out of the world but protect me with your word. Just as you entered the world and took onto yourself all the risks it involved, I know you now send me to it, with all its messiness, to be your face of love in every situation. I pray that you continue to strengthen me in my pilgrim journey to realize your immensity and abounding grace. I make this prayer in Jesus' Holy Name. Amen.
- Olvin Veigas, SJ
15th May 2021
PS: I have written a blogpost on Kahaya/Concoction, a remedy that helps to keep our throat clean and disinfected during this corona pandemic, which I have been doing since August 2020. Please read it on this link