Wednesday 12 May 2021

Shouts of joy…trumpet blast?

What, I wonder, did the apostles expect the day our Lord led them out to the Mount of Olives? One has the impression that, despite the presence of angels, the event passed off rather quietly. There were no shouts of joy and the sound of the trumpet was not heard. Nevertheless, St Luke tells us, the disciples returned to Jerusalem full of joy, burning with the exciting news that the Lord had passed into the heavens. They may yet have had to unpack the full theological significance of what they had just witnessed, but they knew then that it was important, and not a convenient means of providing a glorious exit for a risen, glorified body from the scene.

Yet, despite the joy they were experiencing as a result of Jesus’ departure and his commission to ‘go out and proclaim the gospel’, the apostles did not start out immediately to do this. Instead, they went to Temple in order to praise God, and then to pray with Our Lady in the Upper Room, waiting for the fulfilment of the promise of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate. They had learned, at last, that nothing of the years spent with the Master, neither the suffering, doubts and surprises surrounding his Passion and Resurrection, nor the promises he made to them in the forty days after that wonderful event, would be wasted.

Had we been there, we might well have been overwhelmed by the sense of loss. “He has gone. He has left us.” Given their past performance, we should not be surprised had we read that the Twelve had felt such sentiments of abandonment and fear, rather as a small child might feel on being sent off on a long journey without its parents, uncertain and perplexed and even afraid. The fact that those men did not go to pieces denotes some growth and maturing in faith and understanding. Pieces of the jig-saw were beginning to fall into place. They rejoiced because they had understood this much; that he was indeed ‘going to prepare a place for them’. As once he had told them that ‘where I am going you cannot come’, now he had made it possible that they could, and would, follow. They understood that he was the Way to the fulness of life in God’s presence, and that that life, which is eternal life, had already begun and that in time, where he, the Head had gone, they, the Body, would follow. The doubts they had experienced on the night of the Master’s arrest and on the day of his death, had been destroyed by the power of the Resurrection. They had found that they really could trust the Lord Jesus, who had clearly demonstrated to them that he was who he said he was and that he always kept his word. The apparent loss of the Ascension teaches us too that our gain is great.

If we feel the loss or absence of Jesus, it is, perhaps, because we want to keep him here — to build for him ‘an abiding city’, a kingdom of this world, a tent to dwell in, like Peter and his friends on the Mount of the Transfiguration. But we can’t. Like him, we must move on, fulfilling and finishing our journey here. There are disappointments and tragedies, as there are triumphs and delightful surprises. I suppose our motto should “Excelsior! Onward and upward!” We don’t always see the good we do or the fruit of our commitment. How many of the saints saw nothing but their failures, while we see with the benefit of hindsight their successes.

The Ascension is truly a glorious mystery, though the glory may not be wholly apparent from where we stand. All we may see is the departure and the resulting absence — but from God’s angle, it is surely very different and that is the viewpoint we must seek to capture, if we can, by faith. The glory of this event and which we celebrate liturgically is not here, it is in heaven where our hearts are supposed to be fixed. In Christ, our humanity has found its home, once more, with God — in the bosom of the Father. Certainly there should be shouts of joy and as for trumpets blasting out the good news, why not?