Image (detail): Orthodox Icon of the Ascension.
Easter 7/Ascension, Year C
Acts 1:6-11; Luke 24:50-53
Luke’s story of Jesus and friends has proclaimed good news through faith, hope and love, amid horror and betrayal, guilt, grief and fear. It now speaks of new courage and intimacy … in the absence of Jesus.
Ascension registers departure and letting go, not as abandonment but as blessing. Ascension means we are close to Pentecost as exclamation on the season of Easter, as celebration of Christ re-embodied.
We are given this gospel, this good news: departure, even death may signify blessing (40 days marks a period of mourning). Beyond that, we are encouraged to face the world, one another. And to trust the angels/messengers/ancestors who invite renewed commitment to faith, hope and love.
Despite feelings of inadequacy, despite our vanity and sense of entitlement, we can do this!
We can receive the gospel in the Spirit of Elijah (carried up to heaven, having conferred authority to prophesy and heal), in the Spirit of Reconciliation (wise enough to accept the truth of our history and moment). By virtue of a loving power, we too become love’s witnesses, we contribute to building what is worth building, sustaining culture and community, the flourishing of all kin, all kinds of beauty.
The Orthodox Icon (first written in the sixth century) illuminates. Twelve apostles (including Paul) bear witness to Jesus ascending – enfolded in the divine cloud/glory.
Some readers/scholars think the apostles look confused/disorganised (the Acts reading suggests as much: “Why are you standing here looking up at the skies?”).
Mother Mary, however, on slightly higher/firmer ground, appears centred and steady. Her hands are raised in prayer and her gaze, which holds our own, is full of peace and tranquillity. Already overshadowed by the Spirit, she has pondered the deep mysteries of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection … and is hoping on Christ’s return.
It is striking that Mary, like Jesus and the angels, is depicted with a halo. She personifies the church, then, open to incarnation, to inter-carnation, Christ’s coming again in the scriptures, in the sacraments, in the last and the least, in the little ones. Christ in and among us.
We may also ponder Christ, with all the persecuted holy ones (with dearly departed parents, teachers, siblings, children, friends), strangely present in dreams and imagination, in art, story, poetry (theopoesis) … to challenge our complacency and despondency … to deepen an experience of freedom, to widen a sense of wonder.
Emily Dickinson imagines the divine cloud/glory, a Spirit of inter-carnation, in this way. She writes:
“I dwell in Possibility – / A fairer House than Prose – / More numerous of windows – / Superior – for Doors – // Of Chambers as the Cedars – / Impregnable of eye – / And for an everlasting Roof / The Gambrels of the Sky – // Of Visitors – the fairest – / For Occupation – This – / The spreading wide my narrow Hands / To gather Paradise –”
In the name of God – Lover, Beloved and Spirit of Love – Amen.