Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Luke 24:46-53
Presence and absence. Presence in absence. That is the action of the Ascension. But first, Jesus prepares his disciples for his physical absence. The author of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles tells us that Jesus speaks to them of the promised Holy Spirit. He calls the Holy Spirit a “power” that will strengthen and extend itself in every part of them and us. The Holy Spirit is an enhanced presence of both the Father and the Son, crucified and risen, dwelling in us, calling us to mission, to announce Christ to the world.
The power comes, Ephesians tells, so that the eyes of our hearts may be opened, to know God, to know “the surpassing greatness of the power of God.” Why? So we can exercise the mission given to us, to make disciples – in whatever our state of life. But notice. This mission comes out of, first, knowing God and recognizing God’s ‘surpassing power’ and the hope to which we are called. We are called to know God. Knowing God is power. The disciples experienced that power when he “raised his hands and blessed them” as he departed. They felt joy.
Pope Francis once observed that this might seem odd to us at first. But the 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. 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.
Notice how they immediately began to evangelize in the temple. This is intensified with Pentecost. We, too, are to be witnesses to this joy as evangelists, New Evangelists.
We have power, Christ’s power, through the Spirit.
Pope Francis said: “Dear brothers and sisters, 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 this week, that the Holy Spirit might strengthen us and enlighten us to see God “with the eyes of our hearts” and then announce the Spirit to a world waiting to be roused by the Spirit’s power. Men and women keenly desire a sense of the God’s presence in a world that seems absent of it. Really, there is only presence if we have eyes to see.