I am with you always

21 May 2023 Ascension Year A

Forty days after Easter, when we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection, today we celebrate his ascension into heaven and to the right hand of the Father. Artists throughout the centuries have imagined the scene: the disciples staring upwards as the Risen Jesus is lifted up before them and disappears into the clouds. Their last glimpse of him is his feet as he disappears from sight.


Jesus’ ascension marks the definitive ending of his previous mode of life among us. How strange, at first thought, that we celebrate his departure from us. Would we not greatly prefer to have him stay with us, to enjoy his being among us. But in his ascension, he departs from us. He is out of sight now, no longer bodily among us, having vanished from visibly earthly existence.


And yet, the great mystery of the Ascension is that, with the completion of his mission – his life, death, resurrection and ascension and return to the Father – he is now, as never before, with us – and with each and every generation of believers, present to us in every moment. He is still God with us, Emmanuel. He is indeed more perfectly and completely present to us in each moment of our lives than in his earthly life.


The Evangelist, Matthew, brings his gospel to conclusion in today’s gospel reading, but not directing our gaze to Jesus ascending into the clouds. Indeed, Matthew doesn’t actually mention Jesus’ ascension. Matthew focuses instead on Jesus’ final words, his commissioning of the disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Jesus’ mission is thus extended to all the nations, through us, his disciples. His mission is now our mission, the Church’s mission. 


Last of all, Matthew repeats Jesus’ comforting assurance, that “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus had also promised them that he would not leave us orphans (Jn 14:18). He would send the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, to inspire, guide and counsel us. Next week, fifty days after Easter, we will celebrate Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples.


Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Church later came to understand that Mary must also have shared the experience of the Ascension, rising bodily to heaven. In August we will celebrate her Assumption into heaven. Here indeed is the meaning to today’s feast for each and every one of us: it is our destiny to enter heaven too.


So it is that the Letter to Ephesians exhorts us today: “know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,  and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.”


Anne Hunt

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