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A Reflection from Father John Jennings – Ascension Relationship

by | May 24, 2020

Feast of the Ascension

Ascension Relationship: Apart Yet Present

One of the surprising and common experiences that has come from the current corona virus experience has been what it has done to our relationships. On the one hand, it has placed us in isolation from one another and we lament the lack of socialization. There is also another unexpected result. For many of us there has been a realization of the significance of our relationships with others. Sometimes this has meant the reconnection of relationships that had long been forgotten.

In the last month, I have found myself in renewed contact with persons and families from across North America and beyond. Some of them are relationships that date back 50 years but with which there has been little or no contact in the last 20 or 30. It is a discovery that is a true blessing. One might say that we have been apart, yet somehow still present to each other’s lives.

This virus and its lockdown, isolation and physical distancing appear to have resurrected relationships and friendships even over the barriers of distance and time. It would seem that this is one of the results of this experience and in fact a very positive one. As the spiritual writer Richard Rohr framed it in several of his online meditations, we are in a “liminal space” a kind of border in life. “This global pandemic we now face is an example of an immense, collective liminal space.” He also described it as a “graced time”. It is a time and space of passage.

We are passing in so many ways from one normal to a new normal in our lives. In the new normal our relationships appear to be taking on increased importance for us. Even friendships from long ago and far away have loomed larger. In the midst of this border experience, we probably do not feel “graced”. But what we are discovering really is a blessing. The Ascension was just such an experience for the disciples of Jesus.

When the Scriptures speak of the Ascension, it may seem that Jesus is somehow leaving his disciples. But when we look more closely at the Gospel accounts it is evident that they speak of leaving and at the time staying. There is a sense of Jesus leaving and yet remaining with his disciples.

The classic image of the ascension of Jesus is captured in the story that we find in the Acts of the Apostles. The writer of the Acts tells the story of the earliest Christian communities after the resurrection of Jesus. Acts begins the story with the account of Jesus leaving the disciples and ascending to heaven, or put another way with the return of Jesus to the Father. But it is a story of “leaving yet remaining.” (Acts 1:1-11)

Acts shows the disciples in a “liminal space”. The physical Jesus with whom they walked and talked is gone. They are confused and uncertain. Some even doubt. But their emerging faith in the resurrection reveals a new relationship with the Spirit of the Risen One. The Gospel writer, Matthew reveals the impact of this new relationship. (Matt.28:16-20)

The Spirit of Jesus leads the disciples to discover their role – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Filled with that Spirit, they are to share it, to proclaim as Jesus did, in word and action the Good News for all humanity, all Creation. And as they move through that “liminal space” into a new world, Jesus offers them reassurance: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Q/ How has this time of Covid-19 been a “graced” or blessed time for you?

John Jennings