Today Christians celebrate the feast of the Ascension, remembering the day when Christ left the earth after commissioning his apostles to “go into the whole world and tell the good news.” The gospels vary in their descriptions of the event and the book following these accounts, the Acts of the Apostles, opens with its own variation of the fact that “he was lifted up” and disappeared from their sight. It’s one of those events that I think “you had to be there” because it seems like something that has to be seen to be believed. Yet, for over 2,000 years, people the world over have heard and believed and followed the instructions that Jesus gave at that time. That is, perhaps, the best testimony to the truth of what Jesus was all about here on earth – the fact that those he commissioned did what he asked so effectively that the message has endured through all this time.
It’s a miracle, really, given that those same accounts add details about the event that reveal the on-going lack of understanding of the message on the part of the apostles. One says they asked if this was the moment when Christ would restore the kingdom of Israel. Matthew’s gospel says today that as they came to the mountain, summoned by Christ, “when they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.” There is a level of comfort – or maybe relief – in those accounts on days when it all sounds impossible to me, never having seen anyone disappear into thin air.
Once again it is Paul who gives the key to a solution today in his prayer for the early community in Ephesus. He says, “May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of your heart be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call…” So, no matter how hard we try, our minds cannot grasp these mysteries; it is only by opening our hearts and seeing from that place that we can know and trust in a deeper way what Jesus, the Christ, was doing here on earth and continues to do through us in “a Spirit of wisdom.”