THE APOSTLES got short shrift from the angel that appeared to them after Our Lord’s Ascension.
“What are you lot doing hanging around here gawping at the sky? He’ll be back eventually, just the way you’ve seen him go today. Meanwhile don’t you have work to do?”
The Bible didn’t phrase it quite like that, of course, but that just about sums up the gist of it.
We celebrate Ascension as one further event in the process of our redemption — “If I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you,” Our Lord says. Though why that had to be the case I leave to the theologians to explain. Enough for us that God decided it should be so. As was His decision that it was to be up to mankind to run his Church and so play a major part within human limitations in the salvation of the race.
Redeemed we certainly are; saved not necessarily so much! We are required to put a certain amount of effort into earning our place in heaven. After all, God Himself in the form of His Son took human form and subjected Himself to death to make expiation for the disobedience of Adam. Greater love has no man, certainly not God made Man, than to lay down His life for a race of beings that has let Him down once and shown every inclination to do so again given the chance.
So, “meet me half way” is God’s message. “At least try!”
But that does require Our Lord not be ever there, micro-managing our lives. But also, at the same time, He has promised to be with His Church “even to the end of the world”. So He removes His physical presence and replaces it with the spiritual presence of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps we are getting a little way towards understanding the meaning behind the Ascension and Pentecost.
The apostles of course were bereft. Seeing the Master suffer and die the ignominious death of the cross and experiencing the shock and joy of the Resurrection they are now witnesses to his disappearing in a cloud and they know, because St John tells us in his gospel how Jesus prepared them for this moment and for what was to come, this is for keeps!
They know about “the Advocate” but they don’t know the details and for the moment they are rudderless, without guidance, without their leader, with a herculean task to perform, with no experience outside of how to catch fish or how to collect taxes, a prey to total despair, hiding away from the Jewish religious authorities, with no idea which way to turn.
Until one morning …