Ascensiontide

Author: 
Fr Alec
Date: 
Sunday, May 17, 2015 - 9:30am

The first time the stabilisers came off my daughter’s bike it didn’t go well. An impatient grandparent, eager to encourage independence took her out one afternoon, and set her off down a wooded path on her own. Uncertain and nervous at going it alone, she wobbled off the path and landed painfully on the verge, grazing her knee. When the tears had dried, she vowed never to get on a bike again.

 

A year later, her confidence had grown. The stabilisers had been replaced, and she had been gently encouraged to try again. This time, Dad had been on hand to hold the bike steady, and reassure her that the same thing was not going to happen again. That she could find her own balance and do it by herself. One afternoon, she came in in to tell me that she had done it all by herself, and dragged me outside to show me how she could describe a circuit around the front drive.

 

She was off and going. And though there have been times since when she has need to be picked up and dusted off after taking a tumble, she has always had the confidence and perseverance to get back on again.

 

There is something similar going on today, as we explore the no-man’s-land between Christ’s Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

 It is instructive to contrast the ways in which Jesus’ apostles responded to his two very different departures. His death by crucifixion, and his ascension into heaven.

 

After his death, Jesus’ disciples fled. Some scattered, others went and hid themselves. There was an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Of disappointment at what had been, and dread of what was to come. The absence of Jesus was experienced as a void, a vacancy – a jagged whole in their picture of the world.

 

After the Ascension, it is a very different story. The instinct of the disciples is not to scatter and flee, but to gather together in prayer. The atmosphere is not one of panic and apprehension, but of calm and eager expectation. Jesus is gone, but he has not been ripped from the page. The absence he leaves in their picture of their world is not a whole, but an unfinished space, full of creative possibilities. Together they gather and eagerly await the comforter, the advocate, the Holy Spirit he has promised them.

 

What is the difference between these two departures? The answer is simple…The Resurrection. Jesus has risen from the dead, and has completely changed the way in which they understand their destiny, their role in the world. Changed the way in which they look back over their whole experience of his life.

 

It is hard for us, perhaps, who are so familiar with the Jesus of the gospels, to read them without the knowledge of where they are leading, of what is coming next, because they were written by a community looking back, and coming to understand how Jesus whole life was a preparation for this moment when he could set his disciples free to seek the Kingdom of Heaven for themselves. To direct the world towards the place to which he has shown the way.

 

Today we hear about the choice of Matthias to fill the place among the eleven left after the suicide of Judas. Poor Judas stands as a bitter reminder of a life lived without the hope of the resurrection. A life in which our failures overwhelm us and cannot be overcome and left behind. The family is wounded and an empty chair is left at the table. Today it is filled. Matthias stands for a renewed completeness, a willingness to look to the future and heal the wounds of the past. To prepare themselves for the work yet to come.

 

They have not been abandoned. They will not be left comfortless. The resurrection stands as Christ’s promise of his continued presence: ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ His Ascension lifts up their eyes to heaven, and shows them where it is that humanity properly belongs. He has not left them behind, he has gone ahead to a home that is now their home too, awaiting the time when all creation will be gathered in and Christ will be all in all.