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The Ascension of Jesus - Mission Accomplished.......for now
In the epic Hit Television Series M*A*S*H, the much celebrated Series Finale centers on the long-awaited conclusion of the Korean "Conflict".
Finally, after stealing the General's Jeep (on numerous occasions), taking their dire need for an incubator all the way up to the corn-cobbed General MacArthur, placing a take-out order for barbecued spare-ribs (sans coleslaw) to the famous Adam's Ribs....which happened to be in Chicago, and generally making life miserable for Majors Frank Burns and Charles Emerson Winchester III respectively, the war-weary doctors and their dogged mobile army surgical unit staffers would return home to their husbands, wives, and loved ones after having witnessed an ocean of bloodshed, violence and other assorted mayhem, all of which was cleverly framed within the context of comedy, however dark or sardonic it may have been.
As each unique character bid farewell to the others, it was interesting to see how differently each went about his or her bittersweet task. For some, it was a mere formality as their chopper or other means of transportation to Seoul could not arrive quickly enough. For others, most notably Hawkeye Pierce's sidekick and partner-in-dry martinis B.J. Honeycutt, the task was far more difficult. He in fact could not even utter the word when pressed to do so by Hawkeye, and it isn't until the final credits roll that we learn how Honeycutt bids his friend farewell, spelling the words out on a barren hill in rocks gathered from the valley below.
Yes, for many of us saying goodbye can be an extremely painful and sad experience.
As we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension this week, the Apostles are faced with this very task, as Jesus has fulfilled His destiny here on Earth and will now, in accordance with His promise and destiny, ascend to Heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father. This would represent a dramatic change in the lives of these Apostles. No longer would they be able to see their friend, talk with Him, share a laugh or a meal or a little bit of red wine. In essence, the Apostles were now compelled to carry on and essentially find God in all things as it were. And of course with Pentecost and the subsequent pouring forth of the Holy Spirt but a mere week and a half or so away, the final pillar of the Holy Trinity would soon be revealed as foreshadowed by Jesus in the Acts of the Apostles ("....but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witness in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth").
Of course the Post-Ascension plight of the disciples is our inherited plight from day one, as those of us who believe in God, Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our everyday lives do so strictly as a matter of faith. Saint Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians implores the Lord to bless the Ephesians abundantly with the gifts needed to grow in faith as he addresses the crowd in our 2nd Reading:
"May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of Him."
It's often been said that wisdom is the greatest gift of all. I suspect that if only only one half of 1% of those who pray to God that they win the Lottery were to instead pray for wisdom, our world today would be a dramatically different place. In some respects however, it takes wisdom to be wise enough to ask for the gift of wisdom. A true Catch-22 if ever there was one.
He goes on, evoking the use of lucid imagery:
"May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to His call, what are the riches of glory in His inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of His great might: which he worked in Christ, raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in the heavens."
Jesus' Ascension was a pre-destined step in the journey that encourages us to grow in faith and wisdom with the help of the Holy Spirit, once again seeking out God in all things. Jesus Himself even said "It is better for you that I go, for if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you." - (John 16:7). It is only in letting go that we are able to grasp that which is next in our spiritual growth and development. But I suppose that lesson rings true in matters far beyond the spiritual. For parents of young children, watching them climb the steps of that yellow school bus for the very first time can of course be a day of joy mixed with sadness. Sadness for what once was - fleeting moments of joy that cannot be re-lived. Yet we know that if we look forward, there will be many other great moments in our future. That too is faith in action.
It's interesting to note that during the tail-end of today's reading from Acts, two men clad in white robes immediately appear to the 11 Apostles as they gaze skyward while Jesus ascends into heaven and ask them "Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? 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".
I would venture to guess that we too are often caught glancing up to the sky looking for Jesus, not realizing that he's actually right here among us. Now more than ever we see a proliferation of prognosticators who claim that the end is near. While walking through Port Authority Bus Terminal just this morning, a soft spoken woman with a kind face clad in African Garb approached me and urged me to "repent, for Jesus is coming, and He's coming soon". In her zeal to spread the word, this woman does not realize that Jesus is in fact already here.
Two weeks ago Jesus asked us to love our neighbors as He loves us - to love them as much as we love ourselves. Perhaps He planted these seeds prior to the Ascension in order to encourage us to change the way in which we think and act so that when we see Him in others, we will respond in a way that truly glorifies Him.
So although the Ascension does have undertones of a farewell, by no means are we being deserted spiritually. Quite the contrary, the Pentecost insures that the Holy Spirit will be with us always, the "advocate" that Jesus speaks of in John 16:7.
Jesus ascended into heaven because His work here on Earth was completed. But our work here on Earth is far from complete. To "see" Jesus today requires a different perspective. 20/20 vision does not come into play, and we are not afforded the opportunity to place our hands over the wounds of crucifixion in the palm of Jesus' hands. We instead must patiently look to grow in wisdom.
Rather than looking upward for this wisdom, perhaps it can be found by looking outward.