From The Rectory – Ascension Day 21 May 2020
Oh to be back in Munich! Ascension Day, always a Thursday, tends to pass by largely unnoticed here. In Catholic Bavaria, with no qualms about a public holiday mid-week, Ascension Day is a holiday which we celebrated with Mass at 11:00 followed by lunch in a nearby beer-garden. Do we need a holiday to celebrate a Holy Day?
The Ascension is one of those events which are difficult to visualize. St Luke (Acts 1:9) tells us that ‘as (the disciples) were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.’ Naturally we want to visualize the event, yet, for me at least, pictures of Jesus in mid-air, with or without a cloud, don’t quite work. Whether the visual image works or not, what is clear, when we put the gospel accounts together, is that something definitive happened.
Easter is not the end of the Jesus story. Jesus’ mysterious comings and goings in the days that follow his resurrection are unsettling. It’s good to have him back, yet things are different now, but what will that mean? Luke tells us that after the resurrection the disciples were still looking for the restoration of the kingdom (Acts 1:6). As with us today perhaps, the disciples sense change. They looked ahead, but their idea of the future was rooted in the past. In their case they still had their political ambitions.
Whatever actually happened, it is clear that Jesus’ Ascension was a decisive break. For the first time since Easter we are actually told that the disciples see Jesus leave in a manner which is intended to indicate change. ‘Stay in the city’ they are told ‘and wait to be clothed with power from on high’ (Lk 24:49). For now they have to wait, unsure of what will happen next. For the next 10 days we remember a time with no Jesus and no Holy Spirit, just waiting – and blessing God. At Pentecost, the Spirit came, and a whole new chapter opens before them. But for the moment Pentecost, with all that will bring, lies in the future and we, like those first disciples, must wait.
The Ascension is important, it marks a moment of transition, a moment to pause. Let us take one step at a time. We are entering 10 days of prayer for the coming of God’s Kingdom. Let this period of waiting remind us that serving God is not just about frantic activity. It is through the times of prayerful waiting that we are equipped for the times of activity.
The Pew Sheet for this week is available in the Downloads section of the website.