Homily for the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
I have always been fascinated by this account of the Ascension of Jesus found in the Acts of the Apostles. This must have been an interesting sight. Jesus had just ascended into heaven and the disciples are left standing there looking up at the sky, totally dumbfounded and wondering: What just happened? In fact, it was two men dressed in white who told them that Jesus had returned to the Father in Heaven. Even the disciples needed a little help seeing the truth behind events, even they needed someone to point out to them where and how God had been working in that moment. How often in our lives have we needed the same?
All of us have experienced hardships and challenges in our lives – big or small – when we have struggled to see where God was and how He was working in those moments. What might some of those hardships look like? Maybe it’s dealing with the loss of a loved one, maybe even the loss of a child. Or it can be moments of prolonged illness when we are begging God to simply take the pain and suffering away and bring us healing. It can be difficult to see how God is working when a marriage is falling apart and we’re fighting tooth and nail to save it. Other examples might be figuring out how to provide for family because of a recent change in employment status; dealing with mounting debt and not being able to cover basic expenses; battling mental illness; praying relentlessly for a child who has strayed from the faith; or struggling to overcome the wounds of being neglected by someone we love.
For those of us who have experienced or are currently experiencing these things, it would be easy to get trapped in a cycle of “woe is me” gloom. It might be easy for us to wallow in our despair. And for a time, that might even be acceptable. And we might even be left asking the question where is God? Why isn’t he answering my prayers?
Often times, in the midst of hardship and uncertainty, it’s difficult for us to see where God is and how He is working in our lives. Occasionally we have our faith shaken, we have moments of doubt like the apostles and we’re left standing there wondering what to do next. In that sense, we can all relate to what the disciples must have been experiencing on the day that Jesus ascended into Heaven. Imagine the amazement, the wonder, the awe, the confusion as they see Jesus being lifted up on the clouds and then disappearing from their sight. I’m not sure about you, but I’d probably have the same reaction as them. I, too, would likely be standing there staring at the clouds wondering: “What just happened?! Where did Jesus go? Is he really going to leave us now when we need him the most? What does it mean that he has been taken up to heaven and will return in the same way? Jesus, come back! I’ve got more questions!”
We don’t always understand why things happen the way they do. And I don’t think we’re supposed to. I think life is supposed to be a mystery at various points. Occasionally, the Lord allows us to remain in our doubts and our questions to teach us something about faith, so that we can remain open to a greater revelation about who He is.
In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus tells his disciples “it is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.” There’s a message in that for each of us today. God the Father doesn’t send us hardship and suffering…that’s not who He is. We know that. But, for whatever reason, He does allow us to experience different struggles. It’s hard for us to grasp the full understanding of why that’s even possible. But maybe we’re not supposed to understand it.
Throughout our lives, whenever we undergo those moments of uncertainty, there is always an invitation to place more trust in God. There is always an invitation to turn to Him, to run to Him, to call out to Him. Just like the disciples on the day of the Ascension, we might want to have Jesus stay with us in bodily form. We don’t understand why he has to physically depart from us. And yet, even though we can’t physically have Jesus in our midst, He is still able to come to us, we are still able to call out to Him and ask Him for help precisely because He ascended into Heaven, precisely because He is now seated at the right hand of the Father. He has reassured us that He is with us always until the end of the age. That he will never abandon us, that he will always be there…no matter how that might look.
All we have to do is look at the proof of how Jesus has shown up for us in the past because that’s a pretty good indication of how He will show up in the future as well. He shows up in family members and friends who support us in moments of tragedy, in doctors and nurses who care for us or our loved ones in time of illness, in friends who reach out to us when they know we’re struggling, in the fellow parishioner who quietly offers their prayers for you sometimes without you ever even knowing, in the coworkers who randomly decide to buy you lunch. Sometimes we think the Lord only reveals His presence in big ways, when in actuality it’s usually in something pretty ordinary. He speaks to us in ways that we will understand.
God has told us that he would be with us forever and that promise will never be taken from us. He is always faithful to His word. Even if we don’t recognize His presence and we need someone else to point Him out to us, we can have faith that He is always there. He will never abandon us.
Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, remembering the day that the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples and filled them with the zeal to “go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” Over the next few days, let’s ask the Father to prepare our hearts to receive the Holy Spirit in a new way. Ask God to bring about a revival in our hearts, in our homes, in our families. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to bring about a revival in our parish community, to shake the very church building and wake us up so that we may always see Him at work in our lives and in the lives of others. Let’s ask for the courage to answer the call that he gives each of us today – to go into the whole world and to proclaim the Gospel.