|Ascension -- Mafa|
In older calendars the period following Ascension Day was a distinct liturgical season. Nowadays, though the theme of Ascension is still prominent, this Sunday is demarcated as the last Sunday in the season of Easter. Appropriately the Lectionary chooses Bible readings that will link the beginning of the season with its close. The passage from the first chapter of Acts recounts the final Resurrection appearance that Jesus made to his disciples – the occasion of his ascension to the Father. The Gospel passage – from John – is linked to this event by having a similar theme. Jesus expressly says “I am coming to you, Holy Father”. A key difference between the two passages, though, is that in the Gospel, he says this before his trial, Crucifixion and Resurrection, a time at which he still has a long and arduous path to tread. Yet it is at just this point, and not the Ascension in Acts, that Jesus declares “Now I am no longer in the world”. What can he mean? Even when he has risen from the dead, he appears in Galilee. Doesn’t his departure from ‘this world’ have to wait for Ascension?
|Chagall -- Easter|
The answer to this question, and the key to the mystery that underlies it, requires a proper understanding of the relation between heaven and earth. Though ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’ are often at war within us, contrary to what people commonly suppose, this does not mean that the spiritual, heavenly realm is radically divorced from the material, earthly one. This week’s Gospel makes it plain that Heaven is not somewhere we travel to at death, a place just like Earth only purged of all its imperfections. Jesus came “to give eternal life”, it tells us, but it adds: “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” In other words, we need not wait until we die to know God. Rather, in Christ the human spirit is offered a way of living now that will continue, indifferent to death when it comes.
How are we truly to know God in Christ? Part of the answer lies in our own conduct. This week’s Epistle says “Discipline yourselves, keep alert”. This advice can only be part of the answer. The real Good News, thankfully, is that we are not at the mercy of our own, often feeble, efforts. When the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, which is a lot of the time, then “cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you”. Jesus is properly called Savior because he loves us in precisely the way that God does. We hold out our hands, but he it is who reaches down to us; we open our hearts, but it is his saving spirit that enters them. That is the promise of Pentecost, the season just about to come.