What goes up

The Easter season does not merely wind down and drift away, rather the celebration is completed with two solemnities that make a glorious exclamation mark to the liturgical calendar.

The Ascension of Jesus from a scriptural perspective, provides a unique expression in the Mass readings. In any of the epistles, when the author quotes Jesus, it is more about referencing a teaching and not a recounting of a narrative that took place. However, the Acts of the Apostles begins, or should I say continues, the Gospel narrative in that it describes the Ascension of Jesus in the first 11 verses of chapter 1. This is the only time the Mass readings contain a narrative with Jesus addressing His apostles in the first reading. When you consider the Gospel is the finale from Matthew reiterating Jesus’ message just as He was about to ascend into heaven, the two readings seem to form a literary bridge between Jesus’ ministry while He was on earth and the mission of the Apostles to spread that same ministry throughout the world. 

Have you ever watched a balloon that has been let go rise up into the sky? Perhaps it is our human nature to be in tune with gravity, that we expect something that has risen up in the air to only go so far before the inevitable happens. And at some point in time, that balloon will, indeed, fall back to earth minus the helium gas that took it high above the clouds. Of course the Apostles would watch Jesus ascending into heaven; they were expecting something fabulous, fantastic, and wanted to see what would happen next. Can you imagine how jarring it must have been when the angels chided them for watching the sky? It’s so very easy to think them silly for doing so, but we have the benefit of what all God has done through those same apostles and their successors. Good things come to those who wait, and the apostles had to wait ten days for the fulfillment of the Advocate that Jesus had promised. 

The apostles had three years of traveling with Jesus to absorb the message of the Kingdom of God. They had 40 days after the Resurrection where Jesus demonstrated His Divinity in a deeper way. Lastly, they watched Him go up into the sky, but now what? He walked on water before His death, He was able to come into a room despite the doors being locked, but the rising up so far that they could no longer see Him was different. The angels directed the perspective of the apostles back to the world around them. The last questions they asked to Jesus seem to have them still searching for an earthly kingdom. What were those ten days like for the Apostles? Did they continue to reflect on Jesus’ teachings or did they start to think about their future and if it was even possible to proclaim Jesus to the whole world? How many times have we had to wait to put into practice what we have learned? 

Like a fireworks show, the last celebration in the Easter season seems to be the biggest, loudest, and most colorful of all the explosions. Pentecost is, indeed, an explosion of faith, trust and courage in God. It reverberates down the millennia in all that the Church does in sacraments and community. Yet it is not an ending, but rather a beginning. A fireworks show in one perspective is a poor analogy, as the light from the fireworks fade into the inky blackness of the night sky. Pentecost is more like divine fireworks that not only stay bright, but continue to increase in intensity until the whole world is bathed in the illumination, brighter than the sun itself. 

We celebrate the Ascension of Jesus going up into heaven. We celebrate the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven and filling the world with the presence of God. What goes up indeed comes down, but when God is the cause, the results are transformed beyond our expectations and comprehension. All we can do is give God the glory and praise for love He showers on us in and through the Trinity. 

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