No Time To Mope
Ascension has been moved around across the US landscape. It is too important to leave it on Thursday of the seventh Easter week. Most working Catholics tended to miss it. So local bishops have moved it to the last Easter Sunday. It is stark. The historic, bodily presence of Jesus has come to an end. Those disciples who walked with him and talked with him and dined with him; those faithful ones who followed him and watched him heal the sick and cure the lepers and make the blind see and the deaf hear; those people who left family and jobs to listen to this son of a carpenter teach them to do such radical things as forgive 70 times seven, love even their enemies, feed the hungry, be servants to all — those very same ones now stand sadly in today’s first reading and gawking into the sky looking for him. As Jesus ascends into the heavens, they struggle with what to do. They’re in grief. They’re overwhelmed with loss. They’re overcome with a profound experience of abandonment and emptiness.
I think we’ve all experienced this feeling to one degree or another in our lives. All of us have lost something or someone that we treasured. Many times these are losses that have brought us to tears or anger. Some have even triggered behaviors on our part that we now wish we could take back. That’s where these people, the followers of Jesus, were on this day that we now celebrate as the feast of the Ascension.
The image of the angel messengers from God always moves me. The experience jars the star struck disciples back into reality with a single question: “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?” Better translated, it means: There’s no time to mope, no time to feel sorry for yourselves. There’s good news to be preached and lived out.” They and we are reminded of a startling promise Jesus had made: “You will receive a power from the Holy Spirit coming upon you. And you will be my witnesses … to the end of the earth.” Spirit power would be available whenever two or three are gathered in his name. Spirited energy will lead us to read sacred scripture through the resurrection mystery. Whenever the Eucharist is celebrated; whenever we feed the hungry, house the homeless, visit and care for the sick, that allusive Advocate accompanies us. Jesus told his disciples over and over again that they were not alone. That terrible feeling of abandonment had died in the empty tomb.
The earliest community of people dedicated themselves to the life and love of Jesus did just as the angelic messengers told them — and caught fire in the process, a fire lit by the Spirit. And the fire that came to consume them raged so brightly that within less than 200 years, most of the known world became aware of a group called “Christian.” The message was so exciting and freeing to so many people. For over 2,000 years, in spite of sometimes very flawed and even shocking emissaries, this same message has been presented. It is offered to you and me this very day: We too are loved, not abandoned; we are cherished, not forgotten; we are treasured, not dismissed. Our mission now is to pass it on.
Many thanks to “Celebration’s, Ted Wolgamot for permission to adapt some of the above reflection. Many thanks for all the generosity over the past weeks, especially the hospitality to the newly initiated members of our parish community and to all the guests that join us at the basilica for worship each Sunday from all over the country.
A gentle week.