Jesuit Father Antoine Kerhuel introduces us to meditation with the Ascension readings from Year C
Celebrating the Ascension – as many countries do this Sunday – means: welcoming the presence of the Risen One in our lives. Such an affirmation may surprise because we know well that the Ascension is a departure: the eyes of the disciples will no longer have the possibility of seeing the Risen Jesus among them. But this departure does not mean absence: the disciples enter a time when they prepare to receive the Spirit who will launch them into the whole world to witness to the presence of the Risen One.
The Gospels tell us how difficult it was for the disciples to accept the Resurrection. Then they tell us of the astonishment and the joy of the disciples, a joy like no other … a joy where fascination enters. This Risen Jesus, they would like him to stay with them until the apotheosis that would be the restoration of the kingdom for Israel. And now the end of the world, which they perceived very close, does not arrive. Or rather: this end of the world is not happening as they had dreamed. What happens is something else: in the dead and risen Jesus, believers radically change the way they look at the world, and they experience this generation after generation. Such an upheaval is only possible if the Risen One escapes their gaze, their desire to have the Risen One “within reach” (not to say “under the hand”). The Ascension is exactly that: opening ourselves up to the presence of a Risen One whom we do not possess, and who sends us throughout the world, at all times, to bear witness to the presence of this Risen Jesus in the heart of our existence.
The Gospel of Luke proclaimed on this feast of the Ascension is solemn and sober. Solemn, because it contains an impressive sending on mission (announcing conversion, in the name of Jesus, for the forgiveness of sins) and also a generous promise (the gift of the Spirit). Sober, because the text is limited to saying without emphasis that Jesus hides from the eyes of the disciples when he is carried up to heaven. With this sober solemnity, the Church sets out. The disciples will not have to make the crowds adhere to a Jesus whose qualities of healer and master of wisdom they will have to praise, but they will have to bear witness to the way in which the Risen One calls every human being to conversion of heart and to a new life. The beginning of the book of the Acts of the Apostles, which we also read today, reports in more detail what the text of the Gospel only sketches. We are told that two men in white clothes joined the disciples to say to them: “Galileans, why do you stand looking up to heaven? This Jesus who was taken up to heaven from you will come in the same way as you saw him go to heaven”. The Ascension takes the disciples out of fascination before the Risen One and makes them enter into wonder before the presence of Jesus, dead and risen, in their journey of life, and in the journey of life of every human being.
Such a message, let’s face it, is sometimes hard to take in – and it is perhaps particularly hard for us today to hear when we think of the many wars and violence that are ravaging the world, of the suffering we witness in our countries, our families, our communities, our neighborhoods. We also see how the calls to be witnesses to this Risen One who so often says “Peace to you” come up against the resistance offered by the hardness of our hearts. And yet men, women and children, known or anonymous, continue to issue such appeals to serve peace and justice, and set to work tirelessly.
May we ourselves be of these men, these women and these children!
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Ascension Meditation C: “Why do you stay looking up at the sky?” -Vatican News
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