Homily for the Feast of the Ascension 2007
Once upon a time it was common to hear people speak of their "mid life crisis". I have not heard it much recently. Yet the experience the phrase tries to describe is still a reality. It can refer to an experience that is akin to the change that takes place in adolescence. It is a time of transition. It is a crisis, not necessarily in the sense of a terrible tragedy. It is a "crisis" in the original meaning of the word. That is, a turning point, a time for serious decisions to be made.
For some of us during mid age, when our first life goals have been achieved - marriage, children, career, a sense of unease or loss of purpose can set in. It can also be when circumstances change as when a friend moves away or children grow up or a love is lost that a person can become depressed. Sometimes the decision making that is required at such time is taken smoothly. Sometimes it can be a traumatic experience for themselves and their families.
The feast of Ascension celebrates such a time of transition for those first disciples. It was a time to change and some difficult decisions had to be made. They had shared the experience of Jesus rejection, suffering, death, and then the astonishing resurrection. Now Jesus was leaving them. They had depended on him as leader and guide through some very difficult times. Now it seemed that they would be on their own. Yet after his ascension Luke in the Gospel tells us they returned to Jerusalem with great joy! They had made a big transition in their lives
Luke tells the same story from a different angle in the reading from Acts. Here Jesus looks forward to the sending of the Spirit. It is the Spirit who will be the ground of of hope for their lives. In many religious cults their survival depends on the leader being present otherwise it can break up. In the Christian movement it was necessary that the leader departs so that the disciples hope will be based on something deeper than a limited physical presence. Jesus leaves them with his blessing; a blessing which is the giving of the Spirit to be with them always.
The prayer we read in Ephesians today reveals something of that depth. Paul prays that God open the eyes of the people of Ephesus to the hope to which God has called them. This prayer is also addressed to us. We need that blessing. Because I believe that every generation of the Church has its "adolescent crisis" and its "mid-life crisis" just as we may as individuals. To be a disciple is not a static thing. We cannot remain just "looking up into the sky." We are also apostles of Jesus who are empowered by the Spirit. The very same Spirit Ephesians says that raised Jesus from the dead. Do we realise what a gift we have! We have it so that we can proclaim the Gospel in new ways to every age and people.
The Gospel account we hear today tells of the end of Jesus earthly ministry. The Acts of the Apostles we read today celebrates the beginning of the time of the Church which the Spirit will create. The Jewish Pentecost originally commemorated the giving of the promised land to the Hebrews and later with the giving of the Law on Mt Sinai. Luke transforms the feast in a wonderful way to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. This gift represents the fulfilment of the promises of old and far surpasses them.
The Eucharist is the enduring pledge, the sacrament, the seal, of this gift.