Fr Patrick Hederman OSB
There are four gospels, as we know, but Luke alone mentions and describes the Ascension of Our Lord. It happens at the end of his Gospel and is taken up again at the beginning of this second work called The Acts of the Apostles. The Ascension, in his description, takes place as a blessing: the last paragraph of his Gospel reads: ‘lifting up his hands he blessed them, and as he blessed them, he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven.’ The second book, which
describes what happened later when Christianity began, opens with those words we heard in our first reading this morning: ‘In my earlier work . . . I dealt with everything Jesus had done and taught from the beginning until the day he . . . . was taken up to heaven.’ Luke then quotes Jesus as saying: ‘when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be my witnesses.’ You will be my ambassador; you will be my agent in the world. And ‘after he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.’
The scene then changes to the audience who stand dumbfounded,
gawking up into heaven. “ They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “People of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go.” He will come back to you, but in a different guise, not out there, but in here.
All this happens between Luke’s two books: his first one on the life of
Jesus, which we call his gospel, and the second one called the ‘The Acts of the Apostles,’ what his agents did when he was gone.
So, the mystery of the Ascension, which we celebrate today, a week
before we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, is described and accomplished as a blessing. Christ’s leaving was a blessing . . . is a blessing . . . the best thing that ever happened; the necessary preliminary to all progress in the spiritual life. Noli me tangere [‘do not touch me’ in Latin] applies to us all: stop holding on to me; free yourselves up and stop swooning over my physical presence, my external reality. Find that all-important presence, that security, that strength inside yourself. Christ’s ascending to the right hand of the Father was the greatest blessing ever bestowed on us. It was the gift of the Holy Spirit which we find inside ourselves when we have stopped weeping and wailing about our various losses. Leaving and separation, painful as they might be at the time, are, in fact, the greatest blessing, because they allow us to find ourselves, and, more importantly, to find and to cherish the Holy Spirit within the depths of our being, the place where we breathe from. It is only when the separation is complete, that ‘the acts of the apostles’ can begin. And those ‘acts’ are our acts, the curriculum of our lives as apostles. ‘Apostle’ in Greek means ‘someone who is sent off to do something.’ We are the apostles; we are being asked here this morning: ‘Why are you still looking up into the sky?’ He is risen and has gone before you. You have to rise up too and walk tall. Wherever you go from now on, God is up there in front of you; the Holy Spirit is planted deep inside you, acting as a permanent guide. You just have to turn on your Sat-Nav., your GPS, your Global Positioning System, and ask the Holy Spirit about your ‘global positioning.’ Your destination will be included in the instructions, with
directions also on how to get there, if you listen carefully and accurately.
The blessing is yours, if you have a mind to access it, nothing is forced or imposed in this idiom, it is always, and forever, up to you. So, Go n-éirí an bóthar libh, as we say in Irish, may the road rise to meet you, especially if you are doing exams or making important decisions in your life at this time. May the Holy Spirit be your first port of call. Remember that between now and next Sunday the hot-line is open. Amen.