And so the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven: there, at the right hand of God, he took his place, while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.”
The Ascension of the Lord marked the beginning of a new and yet more glorious chapter in the narrative of God’s presence with his people. The Father’s saving love, revealed in the life, death and Resurrection of his Son, would be continued through the work of the Holy Spirit.
St Mark’s description of the Ascension hints at this in his observation that, while the Lord Jesus took his place at the right hand of the Father, the Lord worked with those who went forth, confirming their witness by the signs that accompanied their words.
Setting the Ascension at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, St Luke saw it as an anticipation of the Church. The Ascension was not the end of the Father’s work. The promised Spirit would bring the Church to birth, nurturing its growth in every generation. “When he had been at table with them, he had told them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised. ‘Not many days from now you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ ”
At his Ascension Jesus had first commanded his disciples to wait, to open their hearts to the coming of the Spirit. So it is with us as we seek to discern the Father’s purpose for our own lives and our own time.
We are naturally impatient for growth and new life, both in ourselves and in the Church. And yet such life can never come from ourselves, but must always spring from the Spirit. A prayerful patience that waits on the Spirit, that confidently expects to be filled with his power, must therefore become the beginning of our every thought and act.
Only in the Spirit will “our minds be enlightened, so that we can truly perceive what hope God’s call holds for us, and how infinitely great is the power that he has exercised through us believers”.
St Paul’s vision for the Church, so full of confidence, was rooted in this confident expectation of the Spirit. As the Church prepares for the synod on family life, and as a newly formed government begins its work, let us open our hearts to the Spirit. The Ascension does not leaves us as abandoned orphans. We are those who, in the Spirit, are called to become Christ’s presence in the world.
This article first appeared in the latest edition of the Catholic Herald magazine (15/5/15).
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