Putting the bins out this morning I was engaged in conversation by a passer-by, along the lines of, “People say that all of the good in human nature, demonstrated in reaction to the virus, means that when we return to normal nothing will be the same again. Rubbish! - he added swiftly; people don’t change and we will soon be back to ‘me first!’”. Who knows? What we can be sure of though, is that it is possible for individuals and communities to embrace new ways and to prepare for them thoughtfully, and in the case of a religious individual or community, prayerfully, as well.
The Ascension of Christ, that we think of today, ends the record of our Lord’s physical presence with his disciples, and marks the beginning of a new era, as the crucified and risen Jesus is lifted to his place in glory. It is hard for us to take in the monumental change for the followers of Jesus, but we can observe the changes.
Consequently, as we consider these things, we recognise that this day is about many things: the passing of the responsibility to the disciples for the spread of the Kingdom of God, the return of the Saviour to the Father; the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit - and all the genuine joy that St Luke records, that was felt by the disciples. But for me it also speaks of how the truth that makes us free is understood by those who are searching to understand what all of this means. In the Acts of the Apostles the angel asks the disciples, “Why do you stand looking up into heaven?’ He doesn’t give an answer and nor do they. He tells them that Jesus will return, but says no more, and no one reflects on what is happening.
So, how do we receive this question from the angel? It seems to me that we are conditioned to accept the words, “Why do you stand looking up into heaven?” as a dismissal; as if the angel is telling them to go back to the city, as their staring into heaven is now a waste of time and effort. But two thousand years later, and in our own context of not being able to physically see Jesus, we still find many of us who are so stunned at partings and loss, that we actually want the answer to the angel’s question - and are not satisfied to simply join the crowd and run on to the next thing, however obvious and exciting that may be.
Let is think of them now; of those who are going through a period of their lives when separation and mourning is their daily experience: The Mount of Olives is their place – the place of contemplation, as Jesus looked over the city - as he wept over it - as he prayed at the foot of the Mount in the Garden of Gethsemane and knew his own aloneness, and as he with joy and in glory ascended to the Father. But, he left his followers alone. Now they could move from there and they did move from there; they went back to the city and stayed together - but it cannot have been easy.
The Ascension Day is a day of revelation, a day when we might seek to understand why we cannot know the reasons for another’s separation; why even those we love may find it necessary to be parted from us for a while. Jesus expected this of his followers – in love he found the way to part from them and keep them positive and forward-looking. This comes over to us in the writings of Saint Luke that we read today; but let us not expect people always to run our way, for they may still be on the mountain top asking themselves, “What does all this mean?” – to such searchers we need to listen. None of us have all the answers, and especially that is true when we celebrate such an amazing and mysterious festival as the Ascension of Christ.