The feast of the Ascension must be the feast of the dignity of the human existence. This day offers us an expanded reality – the earthly experience is lived in the light of heaven, we live in the light of what we hope for and by our life (witness) we anticipate that hope.
At the heart of the Ascension of the Lord is the word GO. He sends the eleven ad mundum. How unreasonable of the Lord. With all the heavenly hosts at his beck and call he sends these eleven on their own. But are they? The Lord asks them to stay put awhile and wait for the Spirit, which will enable them to witness. The other side of the word Go is Witness. And the eleven managed, not in their own way or time, but they did, and that is why I am writing these words and you are reading them, because they did. Today it is our turn to go and witness. You feel inadequate? We are in good company. Recall Benedict XVI on the day of his election as successor of St Peter; he termed himself inadequate too.
Today the Lord asks me and asks you to go and witness; we too have received the Spirit. We are sent out to cast out devils, that is win over temptation and undermine the structures of evil; we are sent with the gift of tongues, that is we carefully weigh our words and skillfully prepare to speak up for our hope. We are sent out to pick up snakes: those tormented by envy, to withstand deadly poison: that is the hatred poured out for what is true, right and honourable. We are sent to heal the sick: to stand by those who are finding it difficult at this time, both individually and as Church.
As Gerhard Lohfink writes we can only understand Ascension through the idea of witness. When we witness we cease believing in the Ascension as we start experiencing it.
The story of the Ascension, with its parallels in the Elijahan narratives, seems to uphold the view of a three-story world: the underworld, the world and the heavens. As this was the human and scientific experience of the first century world, which we hold no longer, then some dismiss the whole narrative of Ascension. Why is it that some are so hasty and impatient? The fact of the Ascension, just like Genesis, proclaims not a scientific understanding of the world. What this event proclaims is the total range of human experience. On Holy Saturday the Lord descended to hell; the inferi, the underworld. There he experiences the lonliness and the pain of rejected love, depths of human experience that are experienced by all. In his thirty-three years of earthly life the Lord shared the experience of every day life. Today, in the Ascension, the Lord shows that through union with God our possibilities are endless; we are called to be part of Divine life. Why do we choose hell, an enclosure into one’s own being, when we can be in heaven the state of fulfilled love!
So Ascension is the Alpha and the Second coming the Omega. In between is the time of sitting at the right hand of the Father. It is the time of the Kingdom being offered to all and many will embrace it. Under Christ sitting at the right hand of the Father and moved by the Holy Spirit this is the time to GO and Witness. The hidden Christ, hidden by the cloud of glory, is made manifest through our witness; our mission brings exaltation; reveals glory.
Today eternity and time meet, we live here in time but also in the divine dimension already. Our God hears and answers patiently and gently. He entrusts himself to you and to me as we proclaim the true and only dignity of human existence.