- Fr. John Jennings
Our Sacred Stories Ascension: A Story of Leaving Yet Remaining
Some 40 years ago I met Jim and Pauline. Jim was with the OPP and Pauline worked in a Catholic school in Barrie. At the time I was on sabbatical researching. I lived and assisted in a parish in the north of Toronto. The three of us worked together in a marriage enrichment program. Over the course of the year we became good friends. Then I left to return to Fredericton.
One of the remarkable things is that the departure did not end the friendship. For the past 40 years we have maintained the friendship through letters, emails and phone calls. It was not always easy to maintain the contact but it did happen. Though we left each other’s physical presence we had not really left one another. Somehow, there was a presence that continued. We continued to be with one another in our friendship. There was a sense of being apart and together, of “leaving yet remaining” with one another.
When the Scriptures speak of the Ascension, it may seem that Jesus is somehow leaving his disciples. But when we look more closely at the Gospel accounts, it is evident they speak of Jesus still being present among them.
The classic image of the ascension of Jesus is captured in the story that we find in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:1-11). The writer of Acts tells the story of the earliest Christian communities after the resurrection of Jesus. Acts begins the story with the account of Jesus leaving the disciples and ascending to heaven, or put another way with the return of Jesus to the Father. It is a story of “leaving yet remaining.”
The disciples have been given two important pieces of their call as followers of Jesus. They have been promised the gift and power Holy Spirit, and they have been told that they are to be witnesses to all that Jesus has proclaimed. In some way, the ascension is the end of the appearances of the risen Jesus. He leaves them yet remains among them through the continuing power of the Spirit that they will receive. Thus, they are to be the ongoing presence of the risen Jesus for our world.
Jesus might have left, but remains among us. The Incarnation continues with us, for we are the face of Jesus for our world. The final verses of Mark’s Gospel present us with this mission. We are called to: “Go out into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). With Jesus among us, and marked by the Spirit we are to be people of the Good News.
The last major Constitution of the Second Vatican Council closed the council in December 1965. This was the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Its title and opening words declared its principal vision:
The joy and the hope, the grief and the anxiety of the people of this age, especially
those who are poor or in any way afflicted; this is the joy and hope, the grief and the
anxiety, of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an
echo in their hearts. The Christian community is, after all, a community of women and
men truly linked with humankind and its history, bearing a message of salvation [good
news] intended for all peoples. (Gaudium et Spes, preface 1, Huebsch, trans. 1997)
Truly, Good News for all.