The Solemnity of the Ascension

[Scripture Readings: Acts 1: 1-11; Eph 1: 17-23; Lk 24: 46-53 ]Fr. Brendan

“Long live the weeds and wilderness yet.” There words from a Hopkins poem1 are a bit of a corrective to our need for manicured lawns and well laid out golf courses with the rough, the fairway, the green — all cut to precision. These kinds of scenic views calm us, reassure us that everything is in order — as it should be. Then there is this discordant voice crackling “long live the weeds . . .”

It might be well to carry that little voice into other parts of our life because, no matter how hard we try, our life will never be a well laid out, perfectly planned and executed affair. Take the liturgy, for example. For those of us who lived through Vatican II, it seemed like there was a major change every week or so, not only ritual changes but changes in the way we think about liturgy, the way we perceive and comprehend. I remember a particularly heated up year or two of changes culminating in an article by Edward Schillebeeckx about how the Ascension took place on Easter Sunday! I said, “My God, what next?” It seemed like everything was up for grabs! And here we are scrubbing Ascension Thursday in favor of Ascension Sunday!

This reminds me of the advice Merton gave someone on how to survive all the ecclesial upheaval of the 60’s: “every man for himself. . .” There is a sense in which we have to sink or swim on our own — a sense of being out there all by yourself. It reminds me of the story in Genesis when God stopped walking with Adam and Eve and they were cast out of the garden. One of the first things that happened was the murder of Abel by his brother Cain, then the Flood, the Tower of Babel — all stories of chaos. But, as the Bible stories continue, you get the sense that God is off in the wings watching it all — intervening occasionally in a burning bush, a cloud, a whirlwind, a thundering storm, a still soft wind, the words of a prophet, and finally stepping to center stage in His Incarnate Word, Jesus.

A Chinese rendering of the Ascension
But now Jesus is ascending into heaven and once again we are on our own. We see the Apostles struggling to establish the Church, arguing about accepting pagans, not real sure about keeping dietary laws. We see Christians chased out of town, Paul put in prison, James killed, Stephen stoned. Chaos. But interwoven with all this chaos is the promise that good will prevail: –that when all is said and done everything will rise, even from death. Nothing good will be lost. Now the weeds and the wheat grow together, but there will be a harvest.

In fact, when Jesus rose from the dead he inaugurated a new creation, one in which he fills all things with the fullness of God. We live in this new creation. Jesus told us it is good for us that he leave our sight. Eyes of flesh are a stumbling block to true vision. He gave us his Spirit in place of His body to replace our sight with the vision of a new world. In this world of the spirit the distance to heaven is not counted in miles, but by desire. If we long for heaven and the presence of God, then we are there. “Our spirit abides where our love abides as sure as it abides in our bodies.”2 In this vision chaos is really design, death is life, giving is receiving, Ascension is the descent of the Holy Spirit. Absence is presence, emptiness is fullness. This is true because the fullness of God resides in Jesus who took our sins upon Himself and redeemed us and now lives with us and in us and through us.