On most days I have occasion to say something like: “My mother used to say…” or “My father had a saying for that.” There is no specific incident or situation that brings them to mind with just the right advice – or, in the case of my father, some humorous retort! They are, however, present and at the ready to urge me on. And there are others who have passed from this life whose spirit remains here on earth in vibrant ways that guide me in a moment of need.
Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Ascension of Christ into the eternal realm. The extension of his life for a time after he had been put to death but rose again was crucial for the birth and spread of Christianity. The apostles had not been ready on that first Easter day to take up the work of spreading the good news; they were still trying to put together the fragments of what Jesus had said and demonstrated for them so that they would be able to continue the mission after his departure. Now, ready or not, he was unequivocally leaving. It still took them some days to recognize the reality of this fact.
I always look for what seem like “throw-away” lines in the readings of the day. There is often something in the way of commentary offered by the gospel for our comfort or deeper understanding of “the rest of the story.” As we remember them huddled again together for some days waiting for guidance on how to proceed, we also have the assurance that Pentecost, the miraculous outpouring of the Spirit, did indeed happen with amazing results.
It is Mark’s gospel today that offers the news of their transformation and the reason it could be sustained. After the moment of Jesus being taken up, Mark skips to the report that “they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.” (MK 16: 15-20)
As with the apostles, we have confidence that the Spirit of Jesus remains with us through our remembrance, just as the memories of our best teachers bring alive the lessons of our lives. As we let go of the physical presence of those we love, let us recognize the great gift of their abiding spirit, our best inheritance, and be unceasingly grateful.