Introduction to the Ascension
“Why are you standing here looking into the sky?” (Ac 1:11 - New Jerusalem Bible)
Entering the Ascension Day is not easy for the average Christian. He/she thinks that on this day Christians are commemorating the departure of Christ, which is not a feast. And then he/she does not feel concerned. And even if it is said that this entrance of Christ to heaven prepares his/hers, this sky seems distant - and the earth is too beautiful. Finally, some of the best are afraid that, looking too much to the sky would lead them to neglect their duties here below.
Accumulation of mistakes
What we celebrate is not so much a departure as another kind of presence of Jesus. Does He not tell us, when He visibly leaves us: “I am with you always, yes to the end of time” (Mt 28:20)? He is there, but otherwise and even more intensely. Glorious, acting in His Spirit who communicates it to us.
When a father or a group leader leaves to prepare a good place to spend the holidays, it is not a farewell. This departure even delights the heart which already dreams of beautiful days. So Christ says: “I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you to myself, so that you may be with me where I am.” (John 14:2b-3).
“If you loved me you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28). Yes, only love can truly overcome this indifference to heaven. A piercing look invites us to take some distance with our fragile and transient successes. A lucid detachment - for a joyful attachment.
As to the danger of betraying the earth, it is not great when the angels shake the apostles: “Why are you standing here looking into the sky?” (Ac 1:11). And Jesus on this day gives us more work than we can do:“Go out into the whole world, proclaim the Good News, cast out devils, heal the sick ...” (Mk 16:15-18). How to reconcile the desire of heaven and our terrestrial responsibilities? By realizing that we are on our way. I am interested in everything that makes this route: I gather flowers there, I support the weak who walks with me ... But I do not sit on the road to make my dwelling here.
On closer inspection, we celebrate Easter again: the passage from the earthly life of Christ to His glorious life. He is definitely withdrawn from the apostles. The exalting presence of the forty days now gives place to the patient presence in Faith alone.
At the same time, we are already celebrating “the parousia”, the triumphant and last coming of Christ: “He will return in the same way as you saw him go to heaven”, says the Angel to the disciples (first reading). A more faithful translation of the text says: “He will come” rather than “He will come again” (Ac 1:11). It is more than a shade, for it is less a return than a visible and striking manifestation of the One who remains present in His Church. It will rather be a curtain raiser on what was already there, but hidden. Conversely, the Church, while still on the road, is already, in some way, at the goal. Through His Head, Christ. We, the members of His body, are there (in glory) that we live in hope (oration of the day). As we can see, at Ascension there is no question of departure, as at the end of time there will be no question of return. And we, we already have in bait what we will one day have in fullness.
What to say for our spiritual life?
Let us not dig an imaginary gap between the earthly church and the celestial. The two are closely united: I am in communion with the saints just as Christ is present in our world. And if I distinguish solidarity with humans from my desire for God, I must in no way separate them. The Orientals understood it better, at least it is shown in their worship. For them the Eucharist is the place where two liturgies intersect, the terrestrial and the celestial which are called and respond in a grandiose to and fro.
Ascension Day is relatively late. At the beginning of the 4th century, in certain places (in Palestine, for example), the Ascension was still commemorated on the day of Pentecost. As curious as it may seem, this fact shows that at that time we had a global view of the Paschal Mystery that contains and the Resurrection of Jesus and His Ascension and the Coming of His Spirit.
The desire to relive more historically than mystically the events of the Passover led, towards this same epoch, to a particular feast. This practice is based on Scripture itself, for the Lord, although already returned to the Father, had shown Himself alive after His passion ... for forty days He had appeared to them, was elevate and disappeared before their eyes. (first lecture). The passage of Christ from His death to His resurrection, “the giant step” (Ps 18: 7) we, minds without intelligence and slow to believe (Lk 24:25), we conceive and celebrate it in fragments, in small steps.