God dwells within you, as you.
Today we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord, the beginning of the end of the Easter season. In many diocese and different places around the world, the feast day is moved to the weekend. And with the limitation of public Masses being celebrated these days, it’s an easy time for us to pass over the day all together without much thought or notice given to the importance of the event.
The Ascension of the Lord is a very intimate event that ends Christ’s ministry here on earth. After his Resurrection, he spends 40 days with his disciples and they experience him in a variety of ways – through the first sightings outside of the tomb, to Doubting Thomas, to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus teaches his disciples about love, mercy, and forgiveness during these important days, and then ascends to be with the Father. However, he does not completely leave humankind behind. As it is, he brings humankind into the fullness of Heaven with him. He opens up this place for all of mankind, and he ascends into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father as part of the Most Holy Trinity. His perfect combination of the human and the divine is what makes Jesus the perfect mediator between God and humanity.
The Christian faith is centered around Jesus, our dignity as human beings, and the promise of an everlasting life. We are loved so greatly and intensely by God, that he has prepared a place for us to be with him for all eternity. When we celebrate Mass, especially during the Easter season, we think about the Paschal Mystery of Christ. It’s so filled with action and importance that it takes a season of 50 days to unpack it all. When Christ ascends to Heaven, he leaves his disciples behind after 40 days with the promise of the Holy Spirit, coming 10 days later at the Feast of Pentecost, and a directive to be his witnesses for all time.
What should we take away today from the Ascension? Personally, I think that the day is about hope and about being a better disciple of Christ.
In order to learn about hope, we don’t have to look far. The promise of an eternity in Heaven with Jesus is the one thing that can easily put into perspective all of our earthy struggles and sufferings. There are smaller ways to practice having hope on a daily basis. Perhaps we’re looking toward a new chapter in our life with hope, like a new home, a new school year, or a new relationship. Or maybe we’re finding hope in the small things these days – such as when we take our daily walk during quarantine and notice the flowers blooming, neighbors being friendlier, or children playing outside more. Hope can be bittersweet as well. Losing someone we love is a sad occasion, but we should all have hope that one day we get to Heaven so that we can see those people again. I have a painting up in my office with an anchor on it that says “Hope anchors the soul.” I look at it almost daily and remind myself that no matter how dark or how difficult my day might be, there is always hope and there is always tomorrow. Jesus promises us that, and he will guide us through and carry us right along with him to paradise.
What about being a disciple of Christ? What does that even mean? Well, let Christ shine through you. Be a Christian not only in the visible ways you pray and show up for things, but in the invisible ways, too. I was watching a movie recently and one of the characters said, “God isn't interested in watching a performance of how a spiritual person looks and behaves. God dwells within you, as you.” Jesus didn’t just have disciples in Galilee and that was it. We are all disciples of Christ. You are, I am, we all are. Be a disciple. I’ve been working so hard on being a better disciple this year, and it really comes down to practicing my faith in the invisible ways, developing my personal relationship with God through prayer, and openly talking about my faith – without hesitation or reservation – to those who ask. I don’t think I’ve mastered the skill of talking to people about Jesus that haven’t asked me, or when my ministry work isn’t involved. But it’s been easier to share my love of God, my trust of God and his timing, and my willingness to let him work in my life and through my words and actions. One friend in particular often questions me about my faith. I should say “our faith,” because it’s his faith, too. But he has questions all the time and is a naturally curious and inquisitive person. It’s been very fulfilling and a joy to help educate him. In turn, I’ve worked on educating myself more as well, because his questions are never easy or direct. And we both have a long way to go.
They say that the best way to learn is to teach others, so if you desire to learn more about Christ, my advice is to practice teaching about him to your spouse, your children, your friends – whoever will listen. Be a disciple in the way you pray, the way you spend your money and your time, and the way you set an example. Let Christ’s light shine through you and light the way for others to follow.