A Reflection for Ascension Day by Fr Damian Porter
Why are you men looking into the sky? (Acts 1:11)
The apostles, we are told gazed into the sky, with astonishment and amazement. Not surprisingly! If it was difficult for them to understand what they were seeing, it is still more difficult for us to picture the Ascension of Our Lord into heaven.
In religious art, The Ascension is sometimes pictured as feet coming out of the bottom of a cloud, certainly pilgrims to Walsingham will be familiar with this image, or maybe an image of Jesus apparently floating in the air above the apostles. It is difficult to portray adequately partly because it’s hard for many to understand, at least beyond seeing it as a work of magic, like Harry Potter apparating, or like something from Dr Who!
Perhaps the Apostles were perplexed and looking into the clouds because, at the time, they so were so overcome with a sense of Christ’s absence. He had, after all, be taken from them, he had physically left, and was no longer seen among them, but to leave it there is surely to miss the point. We need to move on from seeing the Ascension as Christ’s leaving, or Christ being absent.
Remember the promise of Jesus:
“I will not leave you comfortless”
“I will be with you always, even to the end of time”
Perhaps particularly appropriate to our experience during this pandemic “whatever you do for the least of these, you do also for me” A reminder that the Risen Christ is present in the people we and others are serving.
Before the Ascension, Christ was present in just one place, now he is present in every place.
In his earthly life, Jesus walked the streets, towns and villages of Palestine, bringing healing and hope to people. But now his presence is known through every land.
Then He dwelt in one man and one place, yet now he dwells in every person who has been baptised into his life.
In his earthly life, Jesus taught the crowds in the market place, from the boat, and on the hillside. But now his words are read from every Church and chapel and pulpit, and are livestreamed and available to countless on line followers.
Then, he healed a few of the sick, but now he blesses millions of the sick through the work of doctors, nurses and carers.
In his earthly life, Jesus prayed in solitude in Gethsemane, but now he prays in every Christian.
Then, his human body was raised on a cross outside a city wall, and he suffered and died, and now we celebrate him present, and receive his risen life in word and sacrament.
He showed love and compassion to the weak and vulnerable, yet now his people bring that compassion to communities across the world, caring for the hungry, the distressed, and the isolated, not least at this time through the work of those providing emergency food supplies, running errands, or reaching out with love, friendship and encouragement in any number of ways.
We need not be those who gaze up into the sky, like the apostles did, we need not be those who see the absence of God, even (or especially) in the midst of crisis.
Rather, we rejoice that he dwells with us, he lives in us, he speaks and works through us. He is not absent – but among us and within us for ever. Through us his love is to be lived and experienced that others may see, and believe, and that his Kingdom may indeed come on earth as it is in Heaven.