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ASCENSION: JESUS IS EVER PRESENT NO MATTER HOW YOU FEEL




Jesus’ ascension is for the disciples, another disappointment, the first being his crucifixion and death. It’s 40 days and the disciples are barely recovering from the shock of his death. He’s leaving them again, this time going up into heaven. The reading says they gaze as “he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.” Hasn’t the show ended since the protagonist is no more? The answer is presented in the gospel with Jesus mandating them, “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). God knows the human heart and steps in to take care of situations. He sends the angels to address the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).


In Catholic theology, we talk about the “already but not yet,” which refers mostly to eschatology or the last things. The ascension of Christ presents us with the concept of the “already but not yet.” The moral is that believers are invited to take part in God's kingdom here on earth actively. But this kingdom will only reach its full expression at the second coming of Christ.


The “already” inaugurates us into the ministry of Jesus right from baptism. Jesus confers powers upon his disciples and takes them into his ministry. He commissions them, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” By our baptism, we experience God’s kingdom among us. Christ makes this kingdom present to us in the sacraments. We are cleansed of our sins. We receive forgiveness and absolution as penitents. We eat and drink his body and blood. We become partners in love supporting each other through the grace of marriage. We anoint the sick, inaugurating God’s healing and mercy. Through the sacramental presence of the priest, we are anointed to embrace the hope of eternal life at the last moments of this life. Yet, life can be challenging. As he was with his apostles, Christ stays with us always, "till the end of time.”


However, we do “not yet” see the kingdom in its glory. Jesus’ ascension focuses our attention on our relationship with the Father, “'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jn. 17:20). For this reason, John would explain, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn. 3:2). The disciples seem confused about this and they ask, “Lord, are you going at this time to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus tells them to focus on witnessing to the kingdom in all parts of the world. God’s kingdom is our kingdom.


The disciples feel nostalgic as Jesus ascends into heaven. They wonder who will fill the gap. They are afraid of being alone, with all the challenges ahead. The angels remind them, “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”


In life, a series of experiences make us wonder if Jesus has abandoned us. Why would God leave me alone? We look upwards and confused. Questions fill our hearts as to what God is doing with our situation. The woman with a sick child in the hospital. The spouse with a mean husband/wife who does not care. The jobless man who cannot find any work. The struggling lady who is about to face eviction. The sick mom in constant pain. The daughter-in-law who feels rejected by her husband’s family. The starving family. The persecuted Christians. Each of these situations comes with a sense of loss, frustration, despair, and anxiety. Like the disciples gazing upward, we ask, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to us?” Are you going to restore happiness and joy in our lives again?


We can certainly apply the “not yet but already” theology to our quest for comfort from the Lord. We might return to the scriptures to see if it makes sense. Where is Jesus when he is taken away from his disciples? Where is he when he died? Where is he during those three days in the tomb? Where is Jesus when Mary Magdalene cannot find him? Where exactly is Jesus when we think we are not able to feel him physically? The gospel says, “When they saw him, they worshipped, but they doubted” (Matt. 28:17). The apostles doubted his presence in Galilee. But their hesitation does not take away the presence of Jesus.  Here’s what Jesus wants us to realize, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me” (Jn. 16:16).


Jesus is ever present as God. Jesus lives in our hearts. Jesus is profoundly present in the Blessed Eucharist. He does not want us to stand idle and wonder where he is. Remind yourself of the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit. God’s love is inaugurated for you. When your situation pushes you to ask the question, where is Jesus, be assured that he is in your heart. That you do not feel him does not mean he is away. No, Jesus stays. Even after his ascension, Jesus is with us always, yes, “until the end of the ages.”   


1st- Acts 1:1-11; 2nd- Eph. 1:17-23; Gospel- MK. 16:15-20 

 

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