With the finality of Jesus life and the commemoration of his final departure from the recent resurrection sightings we are faced with another of life’s great challenges. In death we experience separation from loved ones and those we have so greatly depended upon. Friends, advisors etc. From one perspective we generally speak of it as tragedy, but from another perspective it challenges us with a vital question.
Is it the cruellest of life’s creation or do we search for the positive. In the subsequent absence is there something important for us to discover even in the pain of such loss. This is the issue at the heart of the Ascension which the church celebrated last Thursday.
Our first reading today recalls the scene of the disciples gathered with Jesus on a local mount called Olivet. To their amazement he departs from their midst in the strangest apparition of him being raised as if into the sky and engulfed by a cloud. Many will argue over the veracity of this scene, but that is a distraction, for its deeper story is about departure, however that happens.
A PROGRESSIVE STORY
The great story of Jesus comes in several stages with each stage enhancing the previous one.
- The building expectation of a Jewish Messiah as the source of future hope.
- The earthly life of the human Jesus who illustrated the possibility of human living.
- The forty days of resurrection illustrating an extraordinary suggestion of life beyond the grave.
- And now in today’s lesson, life without our hero. The implications of separation, aloneness, absence.
THE NATURAL WORLD
Our natural world does not like absence. We build constant involvement, attachment entertainment with our physical world. We believe we need to be constantly engaged with our material world through our senses, our touch, sight, smell, taste and sound. We add the world of imagination, these days via TV, internet, radio. But is there more easily overlooked?
Ascension reminds us that in the spiritual journey there is much more. For there is a door way in absence. Absence enables us to step back from this constant world of engagement and welcome the often neglected world of interiority. So when Jesus departed his followers he promised them he would not leave them orphaned.
In his absence they would find he was still with them in a different way. They could begin to look beyond the obvious and as some declare, see with the third eye. With such third eye, the truth of the universal, the divine absolute would awaken within. The risen ascended Christ receded from the particular human being of a single historical figure but now to be found in the glory of the interior realm of the divine.
He and the father were one. This was his glory, which was timeless. His prayer was that not only he re-enter the glory of the father, but that we humans discover that same glory of the divine dwelling within us.
Father may they be one as we are one.
History is scattered with the stories of people who discovered the importance of the gifts of absence. The first great indication that this was the path of the spiritual is evident in the story of Elijah who fled the marauding class of prophets determined to do away with him.
Hiding in the desert cave he desperately awaited the call of God. We read he could not hear him in the earthquake or the raging fire. Rather it was in the absence of all else, and in the sheer silence that followed.
In a simple statement we can say that Jesus ultimately left the physical so that all could find him in their own treasured interior. His physical absence opened the door to his eternal and universal presence.