By: Bishop Marty Shanahan
“Having said this , Jesus was lifted up in a cloud before their eyes and
taken from their sight.” Acts 1:9
Today we celebrate one of the oldest “feasts” of the history of our Church…there are
records of it being celebrated as early as the 2nd Century.
But did you know…nearly every major faith tradition has some type of Ascension Narative ?
Mircea Eliade the Romanian Religious Historian has said about the ascension naratives,
they are “one of the oldest religious means of personally communicating with the Gods.”
We may arrive at the ‘ideal’ ritual of the heavenly ascent . . . after the following pattern:
1. The ascent to heaven
2. The presentation before God
3. The clothing in a garment and the adorning
4. The crowning with a crown
5. The calling by name, i.e. the proclamation as the Elect and the Beloved
6. The enthronement on God’s own seat
7. The gift of knowledge of God’s own doing
8. The communion by drinking from God’s own cup
9. The union with God, i.e. the elevation to the divine state
10. The return with a special commission.
But here is a question underneath the experience……
What is it about the “going away” that is so critical that nearly every faith tradition has some
story or stories about a leader or leaders leaving and ascending to a unity with the God
Maybe real life has something it can teach us that may help us to understand the mystery a
You see my friends…physical presence and love are fraught with tension…it is a part of the
Just look at our families or closest friends…
every time we truly love,
every time we deeply and passionately care,
there exists a tension in the relationship…
and death seems to reveal some aspect of this mystery.
I thought deeply about this over memorial day…
as I visited several graves of family and friends,
and looked at the pictures of my family doing the same all over the country,
I couldn’t help but think…
Isn’t it amazing the love that has been poured into the world by so many
and how on days like memorial day we stop long enough to appreciate that love
in ways that only absence reveals.
It helps to understand our Sacred Scriptures and this feast day when Jesus says…”It is
better for you that I go away. If I do not go away I cannot send you the Spirit. You will
grieve now but later you will rejoice.”
The tensions of love of can blind us to its depth.
My friend Fr. Ron Rohlheiser, said it best in reflecting on this feast:
“Sometimes only our absence can deepen and cleanse our presence. Sometimes it is
better that we go away, for a day or for a season. That is part of the mystery, the theology
and the psychology of the Ascension.
Children help us understand that too…parents have to let go…in order to receive them back
in a deeper way.
It kind of makes sense doesn’t it? That we celebrate this feast today so that next week as
the Holy Spirit comes, we can receive that Spirit with hearts that have space to do so.
As we prepare for Pentecost…I wonder what it is that we need to let go of…in order to
receive something new in our lives? Is there space for God in us?