We come together on this feast of our Lord’s Ascension not to commemorate a departure, but to celebrate the living and lasting presence of him who at his birth was called ‘Emmanuel’ – ‘God is with us’. Jesus, the living head of his body the Church, remains always with us as he promised.
Christ’s words are spoken with a calm, regal, self-assurance, spoken as if by one who knows indeed that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him. There is not the slightest trace of uncertainty as to what will be the outcome of the mission he gives to the Church. The world will be drawn together under the leadership of Christ. The only question is when that will happen, and how many will choose to be lost before it does.
That had not always been the case certainly. For a number of years the Apostles had experienced Christ as a man, very much indeed like themselves. Far from being covered in glory and able to speak and act with the serene certitude of divinity, Christ in his early life, had to depend in a very real way, as do we, on faith, on his ability to trust in the fact that God would somehow give meaning to everything that made up his life. The humanity of Christ is, sometimes, a difficult thing for us to truly appreciate. We have trouble realising that in a very real sense Christ, during his earthly life, had no clearer view of his final glory than we do of our own. The path that led Christ to the mount of the Ascension was as lined with doubt and misgiving and insecurity as is our own. And he countered all of those things in the only way a human being can … with trust. With faith that God can see what we cannot, faith that there is a point to what seems pointless in our lives, simply because God says there is. Christ was after all, like us.
And if he was like us, then that also means that we are like him. A life lived in trusting acceptance of the will of the father led Christ to the glory of God, the fullness of perception and understanding. And so it will for us.
That same glorious future is ours if we are faithful. Just as with the resurrection, the Ascension of Christ is both a revelation of himself and a promise made to all of his people. In another of his epistles, St Paul writes, “I consider the problems of this world as nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed in us.”
So, the message of the Ascension is a simple one really. Faithfulness works. Keep trying. Never give up. Christ’s promises will be fulfilled and we, too, shall be covered with the glory of God.
Let’s remember the words of today’s preface, that Christ has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us but to be our hope, and where he has gone, we hope to follow.