May 16, 2021 at St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Parish in Naples, FL
Acts 1, 1-11 + Psalm 47 + Ephesians 4, 1-13 + Mark 16, 15-20
Parents everywhere have been through it. You’ve loaded the car. Luggage is in the back end. There’s a cooler with snacks, and you’re off on road-trip vacation. Within thirty minutes it starts: “Are we there yet”? “How much longer?” You sit there and wonder how a priest who has no children would know this, but I was in the back seat with my sister. There was more to it than just those two questions. It would go like this: “He touched me.” “She’s sitting on my half of the seat?” And then would come the question again: “How much longer.” At first the answer that came from the front seat would be “Just a little while.” Then about an hour into the ride, with twenty-five repetitions of those questions, there would come a sullen silence from the front and then that look which would turn milk sour.
That question must have been in the minds of the disciples when Jesus says: “In a little while.” What does a “little while mean”? Time for a child goes slowly. Then we get or age, and time is anything but slow. And then you wonder, what does “a little while” mean to God? That phrase is repeated eight times in the dialogue between Jesus and his disciples. In a fourteen-billion-year universe, the Rocky Mountains rise in a little while, the Appalachians shrink in a little while, continents shift and shape, stars are born, comets fly by light years away, and it’s just “a little while” to God.
Only Luke gives us any images with which to imagine what happened. John does not even mention the Ascension. He compresses the whole mystery of Jesus Christ, the lifting up on the cross, the tomb, the ascension into heaven, and the return at Pentecost into a little while revealing what a real human being with a divine destiny looks like. Christ among us calls us to be children of God. It is almost beyond our comprehension, but only almost. We might wonder what happened, where did that body go, and what does it mean to be seated at the right of the Father?
The meaning of the Ascension is not found in history. It touches the lives of all believers in every age. This Feast turns our attention away from the earthly life of Jesus to the future and not just that future when he will return in a little while. It turns our attention inward, because there are implications here about our lives here on earth and for our future when we are no longer here, in a little while. Like those disciples we hear of in the first reading, our attention is turned toward the future that is clearer now because we have something to do while we wait that “little while.” We are to continue the work that Jesus began. It is an awesome task, but not one we must do alone. Because with his Spirit, we can do all the things he did and even more he has said to us.
The Ascension is not the end of anything, but the beginning of everything for us. It gives us an idea with which to imagine our future at the right hand of the Father. It gives us not just something to do as we move into that future, but it defines who we are as children of God. The Ascension of Jesus Christ can also give us the courage to look toward our own death and not be frightened or troubled, because the best kept secret of our faith is that we shall see him, and our grief, our fear, our anxiety will be turned into joy