Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Mt 28:16-20
“Why are you standing there looking at the sky?” Think of Boeing 747, for example or the current Dreamliner. Countless people have flown on them. The dream of flight began with Susan Wright. Her death was a great blow to them, the Wright brothers. Susan Wright, their mother, had a profound influence on their development as experimenters. She continually encouraged them, walked beside them, and urged them on to greater things, achievements greater than their bicycle shop in Dayton. In one account of their lives, after her death, their motivation to make the plane fly was that they hoped to see their mother again in the sky. Their sense of loss, combined with desire, led them to their great, life-defining, world-changing achievement. I thought: How like today’s great Feast of the Ascension. One can sense the loss in this reading from Acts as the Apostles are looking up to heaven.
But Christ’s commission and his blessing must have left them with the power of his presence rather than absence. Anyone who has lost someone can tell you of the sense of the loved one’s presence. I’ll tell you what I noticed after my mother’s death. After her death, I began to have a heightened sense of her presence with me, in me. I recognized when parts of my mother’s personality were coming-out in me, in my actions and in my response to things, based of course on my human formation of having been raised and formed in her presence. These parts of my own personality that reflected my mother were clearer and clearer to me. They still are. The same thing happened when my father died in 1997. These dynamics are like what Christ is describing in this Gospel passage. The Advocate, “the one who walks beside,” the Holy Spirit reminds of us of Christ in us. The Holy Spirit enhances, heightens our sense of Christ in us. The disciples experienced his presence so strongly that felt joy, not sorrow in his absence after he ascended. This joy, of feeling his presence, led them to mission, to announce him, evangelizing in the temple.
Pope Francis says: “The Ascension does not point to Jesus’ absence, but tells us that he is alive in our midst in a new way. He is no longer in a specific place in the world as he was before the Ascension. He is now …present in every space and time, close to each one of us. In our life we are never alone.”
In this week between Ascension and Pentecost we wait in prayer, like the disciples with Mary in the Cenacle, the Upper Room, as they awaited the Holy Spirit. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit might strengthen us to announce the Spirit to the world. We, too, are to be witnesses to this joy as evangelists, New Evangelists. We have power, Christ’s power, through the Spirit. Really, there is only presence if we have eyes to see. And we don’t have to invent an airplane to see it.