We are preparing in the Church for the Feast of the Ascension. Does this feast day matter? It falls between Easter and Pentecost. Is it inconsequential? Let’s see.
It is 8:00am on Friday morning here in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The air around me is silent and still. That has become the norm around here. Just three months ago, I would have been yearning for more quiet days. I would have been yearning for the tranquility of a retreat; but, things are different now. I now yearn for all the commotion that comes with a normal Friday morning in our neighborhood. Rather than a feeling of serenity in the quiet still air, I experience a bleak void. I, and all my masked companions on the street, go about our day making the best of it, but there is always a feeling of restlessness, anxiety, a worry that a loved one will get sick or that I, or someone around me, could pass on our unseen adversary—the coronavirus.
The quiet around me comes with the knowledge that our adversary has put tens of millions of people out of work and presented to our world 4.6 million sick cases and over 300,000 deaths. These numbers are not just abstract, though, everyone around us has been personally affected. We all know people who have lost their jobs. We all know people who have been sick. We all know people who have died—some of them friends and loved ones.
Is there any reason for hope? In what can we place certainty? Where can we place our confidence?
On another Friday, almost two thousand years ago, a band of disciples had been thrust into the grip of sorrow and uncertainty. The one person they had placed their hope in, Jesus the Christ, had just been crucified on a cross. The air around them was silent and still, but it was an eerie quiet, not peaceful and calm. Did they have reason to hope?
Yes! The Easter story was about to begin. Sunday morning had broken; the stone had been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb and Jesus the Christ had been raised from the dead. Jesus began to appear to His disciples. Through closed doors, he entered the place where the disciples were and said to them, “Peace be with you.” The darkness the disciples experienced on Friday was now immersed in the light of the Son. Suddenly even death had no sting. The risen Christ had conquered death!
The disciples were happy they had Jesus with them. Then for forty days after his resurrection he taught them about the kingdom of God. On the fortieth day, he told them something striking…he said, “”A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.” These words at first confused the disciples, so Jesus continued, “Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’? Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.” (John 16:16-20) Jesus was now speaking of the Ascension. To fulfill his mission, he must now leave us and ascend to the Father in heaven. His Ascension to the Father however was not reason for sorrow, but for joy. His leaving us would not separate him from us; rather, he took us with him into the intimacy of the Father and thus revealed the final destination of our earthly pilgrimage. Pope Benedict XVI once said, “As he descended from Heaven for us, and for us suffered and died on the Cross, so for us he rose and ascended to God, who, therefore, is no longer far away.” St. Leo the Great said, “In the Ascension, not only is the immortality of the soul proclaimed, but also that of the body. Today in fact, not only are we confirmed as possessors of paradise, but in Christ have also penetrated the heights of Heaven.” This is why the disciples, when they saw Jesus rise from the ground and ascend upwards, they were not disheartened, as one might expect, instead, they were overcome with joy and felt compelled to proclaim Christ’s victory over death.
So getting back to my question from earlier prompted by the Coronavirus, Is there any reason for hope? In what can we place certainty? Where can we place our confidence?
Answer: Jesus Christ! He has risen! He has ascended to the Father.
Despite the uncertainty, suffering and grief caused by the pandemic, the Lord is nearer than before. Because of the Ascension, the quiet still air around me is not empty. No, He has sent His Holy Spirit to fill the void.
Today, I can live with hope.
Fr. Michael Harrington, a native of Swampscott, MA, is a Catholic Priest for the Archdiocese of Boston, and Currently the Pastor of St. Mary’s of the Annunciation Catholic Church in Cambridge. In the past he served as The Director of the Office of Cultural Diversity for the Archidiocese of Boston and is currently a Consecrated member of the Institute of Jesus the Priest (the Pauline Family).