OUT OF SIGHT BUT NOT OUT OF MIND
Brothers and Sisters,
The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord is often where we lose people – and, frankly, I have no idea why this is the case for so many; maybe it is the last straw for some. Christianity is chock-full of extreme and extraordinary claims: physical miracles all through the Old Testament, a virgin-pregnancy and birth, a man Who is also God, a dead man now alive again, and so forth. Yet, with all of these incredible claims, for some reason, many find the Ascension of Christ too much to take in and accept.
In fact, I remember explaining this to a friend of mine in high school. He – a practicing Christian – didn’t buy it for even a moment. He was on board with the virgin birth and Resurrection, but, for some reason, Christ ascending into Heaven was too far a leap for him to take. “Surely you can’t be serious,” he said to me (and if you love movies from the 1980s, you’ll know what I said in response to him).
From another of my favorite hymns: Abide With Me:
Hold then Thy Cross before my closing eyes,
Shine through the gloom and
point me to the skies!
Heaven’s morning breaks and
Earth’s vain shadows flee.
Through life, through death, O Lord,
abide with me.
This “stay with us” is a common prayer for Christians and is in nearly every corner of the Gospels. For example, after the Transfiguration, Christ tells the apostles to leave the mountain and they plead that Christ come with them. Further, even on the road to Emmaus, the unknowing companions of Christ ask Him to stay near and not journey on without them. Even at every ordination of a deacon, priest, or bishop the Church formally prays “draw near, O Lord.”
So, perhaps, then, the Ascension is tough to believe mostly because Christ is leaving (and perhaps staying far away from us). That idea doesn’t seem to fit with everything else we know about Almighty God. Christ doesn’t even apologize for leaving but implies that it is a good thing that He is leaving.
Why? The Ascension of the Lord finally completes the prediction of the Psalms: lift up O mighty gates, open ancient portals, that the King of Glory may enter. Who is the King of Glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, He is the King of Glory” (Psalms 24:7-10). I keep saying Christ leads by example; not only must we follow His behavior, but also follow in His footsteps.
God be near,