Reflection for the Feast of the Ascension

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Sister Jeanne d’Arc Kernion | May 13, 2021

There were two aspects of today’s feast for the apostles: loss and gain.  We can’t forget that the apostles and disciples were human, quite subject to all human feelings.  After the crucifixion, Jesus is no longer with them, and they hide in fear and mourning.   Then after the Resurrection, Jesus again appears to them.  Can’t you imagine them, then, despite Jesus’ warnings that he is not with them permanently, still thinking that he will be, this man whom they followed and loved for some three years, their leader whom they had thought they’d never see again after his terrible death?  Yet here he was with them again, and they are comforted by his presence and his reassuring words.  And now, after all, he is leaving them.

To acknowledge the apostles’ loss is a necessary part of the feast.  It doesn’t, however, leave us there, just as it didn’t leave them.  In the first reading from Acts, in answer to the apostles’ idea of Jesus’s restoring the kingdom of Israel, he says to them:  “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come to you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  After he ascends into heaven, the two men in white console them further:  “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

From the Acts of the Apostles, we learn how these disciples dealt with their loss.  They went back to the place in Jerusalem where they had been staying, and, it says, “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer…”  Pentecost follows soon after, and “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit…”  And then, they go out as Jesus had told them to, and preach to all nations the gospel of Christ.  They are no longer occupied with loss.  They have the joy of Christ’s message to share with the whole world.  Now they know gain.

Both parts of this feast speak to us.  First, we can relate to the feeling of loss.  We have all known it so many times in our lives.  If we think about it, much of life is loss.  As we grow, we, of necessity, lose by letting go of what the next stage of life demands of us.  Then there are those other painful, unexpected losses, like the loss of health, or the loss of a dear loved one, or even the loss of a home we thought we’d always have.

So through life, we have to deal with loss, and so much depends on how we do this.  So often we can be stymied by it, not want to accept it, even try to fight against it.  But, as Christians, following Christ, however, we have another way.  Just like the Apostles, we can pray and then go on, because we have Jesus’ word that there is something greater than loss, and his assurance that he is always with us.  Through the way we live our lives, we can preach his gospel, loving and serving our neighbors.  We know we are not alone; he is with us.  We are assured by what he told his apostles, and we know he meant it for all his followers.  “I will not leave you orphans.”

So we rejoice on this feast.  We know that, in the end, life is not about loss, but about eternal gain.  Perhaps St. Peter’s words in the first chapter of his letter say just what we should remember as we strive to face life and loss in the way Jesus would have us do it.  Who better than Peter to give us this message of hope, this assurance that, in the end, all will be gain.  I quote, from Sr. Irene’s translation which we use as a canticle:

“You are guarded by God’s power through faith

for salvation waiting to be revealed

So you rejoice even if you suffer now.

Your faith is proved more precious than gold.

Your joy is more glorious than you can tell.

You are already receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”          

This is the message of joy we hold as today we celebrate the Lord’s glorious ascension.  We know we have everything to gain.

We can’t forget that the apostles and disciples were human, quite subject to all human feelings.