The account of the Ascension in the Acts of the Apostles is both an ending and a beginning. It marked the end of Christ’s earthly ministry and the end of those 40 days during which the Risen Lord had appeared to his disciples. And at the same time it marked the beginning of a confident expectation.
“When he had been with them at table, he had told them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for what the Father had promised. ‘It is,’ he had said, ‘what you heard me speak about: John baptised with water but you, not many days from now, will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’”
The Ascension of Jesus into heaven, far from concluding the work of Christ’s salvation in his disciples, left them with a longing for what was yet to come: the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. They had travelled far and witnessed much, but still his work was not complete in them.
So it is with every believer. Through the sacraments, and in life’s varied experiences, we have travelled far with the Lord. Nevertheless, there is, within us all, an emptiness that still cries out for completion. The Ascension, precisely because it promises the Spirit, speaks to everything that remains unfulfilled in ourselves. When Jesus was taken from the sight of his Apostles, it was, in human terms, inevitable that they should have felt his absence. Likewise there are times when we are more keenly aware of God’s absence rather than his presence.
It was to this longing that the two men in white spoke at the Ascension. “Why are you men from Galilee standing here looking into the sky? Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, this same Jesus will come back in the same way as you have seen him go there.”
These words do, of course, refer to the second coming of Christ at the end of time. More importantly, they refer also to the coming of Christ in the promised Holy Spirit.
St Paul, in his prayer that our eyes might be enlightened, spoke of this coming. Through the Holy Spirit they would come to experience within themselves the power of Christ’s presence, a power infinitely greater than the emptiness that they had known.
“Glory to him, whose power at work within us can do infinitely more than we could ask or imagine we could ask or imagine.”
This article first appeared in the May 6 2016 issue of The Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here.