We celebrate today the Ascension of the Lord Sunday. Luke describes the moment of the Lord’s ascension in today’s 1st reading from the Acts of the Apostles where Jesus “was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.”
The ascension is one of the most misinterpreted and underrated events in Jesus life and belief of our faith. The ascension has often been portrayed in a somewhat mythological way as a gravity-defying form of levitation or the retreat of Jesus from this world to a place up, up and away.
It is significant that Jesus rested in the cloud in the Ascension. In the bible a cloud often depicts the abiding presence of God amongst the people. In the Old Testament, the pillar of cloud was the glory-cloud which indicated God’s presence leading the ransomed people of Israel out of Egypt through the wilderness (Exodus 13:22; 33:9, 10). This pillar preceded the people as they marched, resting on the ark (Exodus 13:21; 40:36). By night it became a pillar of fire (Numbers 9:17-23). By resting on the cloud as Jesus ascended, signifies not Jesus’ departure but his constant accompaniment of his disciples and the community gathered in his name—the church—as they face the challenges and troubles of this world. As Australian Redemptorist Fr. Anthony Kelly, CSsR states,
The ascended Jesus has not disappeared or been dissolved in a celestial ether, but is ever present to the faith of the church in the here-and-now of the community’s life. The ending of his particular kind of terrestrial presence has yielded to a new kind of universal presence, reaching to all places, times, and peoples. (1)
Belief in Christ’s ascension opens for us the experience of faith and the life of the Church as limitless. Kelly adds that the ascension reminds us that the mission of evangelization is unconfined, always moving beyond, upward, outward, in the vitality of the risen Christ who already occupies every dimension of time and space. Properly understood, the ascension is a fundamental aspect of the catholicity of faith and enables us to breathe more deeply in the experience of “the boundless riches of Christ.” As Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr said, we are already in the presence of God, what is absent is awareness.
Jesus’ ascension is not a departure from his disciples and for all the disciples which forms the church in every generation. Jesus’ ascension was an expression of a new relationship with him, the risen One, that transcends physical barriers. Now, instead of accompanying us here on earth in his ministry, we are “clothed with power from on high” to be his presence and continue his mission. Jesus empowered us to be “witnesses of these things,” the wonderful things that Jesus did and said about the boundless blessings of God’s kingdom.
(1) Anthony Kelly, Upward: Faith, Church, and the Ascension of Christ (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2014), 2.