Luke is the one, in his Acts of the Apostles, who describes the event we celebrate this Sunday, May 4. It is in contrast to the ascension he describes at the end of his Gospel. In the latter, there is great joy at Jesus’ going to his Father; the ascension is the triumph, or part thereof, which followed upon his terrible death undergone for love of his Father. Suffering issues in joy, particularly when it is a question of two people who love each other so totally as did Jesus and his Father - no matter what the suffering, love must produce life, not death, and triumph so as to be with the Father forever. This ascension is, then, a fitting ending to the story of Jesus’ public life - it is a time of celebration, joy, and thanksgiving for this life among his friends. Forty days later, however, at the final appearance of Jesus to his friends, the departure of Jesus leaves the disciples unsure and a bit timorous. The best they can do, it seems, is to look up to where they last saw Jesus, and stare at it. A revelation comes to reassure them that Jesus will return, in glory. Though as Jesus says in John’s Gospel, I will not leave you orphans, they are in a very measurable way on their own. What they have are wonderful memories of Jesus, his words of promise and assurance, his promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit and of own mystical presence with them. They look to a future without following him physically. Their role now? To witness, as much as they can, to Jesus, to tell others, by word or example, that he alone is Lord, the Son of God. This feast of the Ascension poses, then, a threefold message from Luke: the joy of success and gratitude for all Jesus’ life on earth means for us, some anxiety till we meet with him again, recognizing for now a certain degree of separation from him, and response to his call that, until he comes again, we bear all the witness we can that ’He is the one, the only one’. John Kilgallen, S.J.
The Tale of Two Ascensions