Today we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, an event which begins to introduce our time in the history of salvation. A great change was made in the way that God is present among God’s people. Not the end of that presence, by any matter of means, but a change in the way that presence is experienced, what it feels like.
The first reading today speaks of this clearly. Christ cautions the apostles to wait before they set out on the mission he had given them, the mission of spreading God’s Word, God’s personality to everyone. “Wait in Jerusalem,” Christ says, “Until I send the Spirit, before you set out.”
In effect he is saying: “Don’t try to do these things on your own. Wait till I can be with you. On your own, you will only mess things up.” A fairly good indicator of how true this is, is given in the next line, where the apostles are asking, “Is this the time Lord, when you will restore the Kingdom to Israel?”
Even after all the time they had spent with Christ, they had still pretty well missed the point of what he had to say. They still halfway expected Christ to lead an army against Rome and bring back to Israel the glory of the good old days under Solomon. Christ’s answer to them is about the same as it always had been to such questions. He cannot say yes, because such a kingdom is not his concern, and he does not say no, because there certainly is a kingdom yet to come. So he says something like “You will find out. The Spirit who is to come will teach you everything. Under his guidance you will build my Kingdom.”
But there is a further revelation to be drawn from this event. Nothing that Christ ever did or said was meant for him alone. Christ also reveals to us something about ourselves. The ascension is a description of our future, of what lies in store for us. It is a repetition of the promise given at Easter that a life of fidelity to the Father is a life that simply does not end. In the words of Christ just prior to the ascension, we human beings have been given the task of taking up His saving role, and at the Feast of Pentecost we are given the ability to carry it out. If we make use of that ability, we have every right to rejoice today, not only the glory that has been given to Christ, but also because of the glory that waits for us.
The Ascension is Christ’s last word of encouragement, his way of saying, “Be faithful. There are many good things yet to come.”