Ascension Sunday 2017

I have Fr Philip Endean S.J. to thank for highlighting something about the Ascension that I think many of us overlook, though he is not responsible for my interpretation of his original remarks (see https://www.thinkingfaith.org/articles/20120521_1.htm).

We tend to think of the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus as being somehow a bit more ordinary life tacked on after his death on the Cross before his final disappearance into heaven. Yet, as we all know, the Risen Christ lives for evermore with the newness of life the Resurrection signifies — and he is with us always, to the end of time. The Ascension is not a parting or a disappearance but a fulfilment. An Orthodox friend once commented that our Western feast of Christ the King always struck him as unnecessary because the Ascension marked Christ’s transformation of our limited, earthly notions of power into the limitless, heavenly reality. As a feast of transformation rather than of parting, the Ascension makes perfect sense. This is the day when all our old ideas are shown to be inadequate. Christ does not abandon us or ‘leave’ us. He changes for ever our understanding of presence and makes possible that coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost which will make all things new.

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7 thoughts on “Ascension Sunday 2017”

  1. Odd that this is the first time (in 50 years!) I have considered it as a transformation rather than a departure. It always seemed a fuzzy footnote – “oh and by the way He finally went up to heaven…”

    This transformative aspect makes more sense and makes the event seem full of power and hope. Something Christians could do with in these rather bleak days. Thanks.

  2. And Fr Philip is very happy with your interpretation! I do so much enjoy reading this blog, and hope and pray you are managing well with your illness. As it happens, I was in the UK last Thursday, and travelled back to Paris on Saturday evening — but as things happened, this morning it was my turn to celebrate Mass in prison, and we quietly and unofficially transposed Thursday to Sunday here as well.

    • Thank you! I don’t always manage to see what you write when it comes out, but our good friend Eric can be relied upon to point me in the right direction, and I’m very grateful for that. I’m also very grateful for your prayers: I’m doing much better than I have any right to expect.

  3. A lot of the traditional trappings of Ascension reinforce the idea of upward motion: the name Ascension; Hail the day that sees him rise …. ever upwards to the skies. I remember as a teenager one Ascension in the mid 1970, where an eminent Jay was preaching at school and we call came away with the mental picture of Christ slowly clearing ground like a Saturn V rocket.
    I’d always thought that the gap after Ascension was to make Pentecost all that more special … that the arrival (or manifestation) of the Holy Spirit is the beginning of the church?

    • I’m not clear whether you’re saying that the idea of upward movement in the narrative of the Ascension invalidates the idea that we are celebrating a transformation rather than a parting, or merely noting the fact that it is there — as, of course, it is. Liturgically we keep the period between the Ascension and Pentecost as a time of preparation for the great gift of the Spirit and the birthday of the Church, but seeing these as sequential events isn’t the only way. Fr Philip Endean’s article says all this much better than I could.

  4. Ascension is a joy! A completion and a new way of being with us. When I was a child I saw a holy picture of a cloud with a pair of feet poking out as Jesus ascends!! I thought it daft then. Now I see it as the joy and delight of the Father in the Son, and we too caught up in the embrace when we receive the gift of his Spirit at Pentecost.

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