This Sunday is the Feast of the Ascension. We can sometimes see this as a feast that is about the past. In fact, it is just as much about the present as the past. I read the following story during the week and it helped to make that point:
“Leonardo da Vinci had started to work on a large canvas in his studio. For a while he worked at it – choosing the subject, planning the perspective, sketching the outline, applying the colours, with his own inimitable genius. Then suddenly he stopped working on it. Summoning one of his talented students, the master invited him to complete the work. The horrified student protested that he was both unworthy and unable to complete the great painting which his master had begun. But da Vinci silenced him. “Will not what I have done inspire you to do your best?” Jesus our Master began to spread the Good News two thousand years ago by what he said and did, and supremely by what he suffered. Jesus illustrated his message and left us to finish the picture. Will Jesus’ life not inspire us to finish the picture? This is the message of the Ascension”
I like the idea that the Ascension is an invitation to us to pick up the task of both proclaiming and continuing to bring about the Kingdom of God. We are living the life of the Ascension when we engage with the things of the kingdom; reconciliation, forgiveness, inclusion, bringing hope and ‘speaking truth to power’ in the light of injustice.
St Paul prays in the second reading of this Sunday, that God may grant us a Spirit of wisdom and knowledge and enlighten our hearts so that we might know the hope to which we are called. This prayer of St Paul is also an Ascension prayer. It asks that God gives us the insight into the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is to be our hope and the reason that we live our lives in a way that shows that we are full of hope – even in the face of diversity.
The best Christian witness today may come about through Christian communities who see themselves as heirs of the Ascension. Not in the sense of heirs who have inherited a gift to keep for themselves but as heirs who have received a task as well. The task to shine forth with the sure and certain hope that the Lord lifts us all who are broken and weary. To believe this hope is to live this hope. And to live this hope is to proclaim that the Lord is risen indeed and is among us.
By Fr Brendan Reed