This weekend we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord into Heaven. Jesus finishes his mission and leaves his apostles with the charge to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that [was commanded to them].” In our current situation in the world, with churches closed and families confined to their homes, it can feel as though Jesus has left us just as he did with his apostles. But what did we learn from all this? Could something good come out of a terrible situation?
This period of isolation has given us a lot of time to reflect. We were given the opportunity to slow down, to preoccupy our minds with things that perhaps were not at the forefront of our thoughts.
I am reminded of what happened to the people of Israel, when the glory of God was taken away from them and they were forced into exile. This unimaginable situation of both losing their place of worship, the Temple, and the familiarity of their way of life as they have known it, caused them to rethink every aspect of their lives. It was in the darkness of exile where they rediscovered the ancient texts. It was in exile that they rediscovered the love of God, a love that just prior to the exile they had taken for granted. They were able to look back at how God had saved them from the slavery of Egypt, how he guided them in the desert, how he established for them a kingdom, and how despite the infidelity of Israel’s leaders, he remained the faithful spouse to His people.
This caused the Israelites to realize the extent of their infidelity and began a movement of reparation and self-discovery. During this period of study they rediscovered their identity as God’s children – not of Ashtoreth, Chemosh, Milcom, or Ba’al, whom they previously worshipped – but of Yahweh, the God of their fathers Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob. They began to write new texts with this new self-awareness and new understanding, such as 1st & 2nd Kings. And when God saw them turn back to Him, they were granted the freedom to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple.
What does all this have to say to us, we who are going through our own exile and are at the cusp of returning to our own temple of worship? We cannot say that things will be exactly as they were before, and perhaps, there are things with our new-found understanding, that shouldn’t be as they were before. Our approach to the Eucharist and the liturgy should remind us that what our hearts truly desire is to love and serve the Lord. Perhaps we have taken for granted the incredible gift of what God offers us through his sacraments. This period in which the Lord has ascended could be the catalyst for a new zeal, a new heart, a new driving force to go out and make disciples of all nations, and to teach them to observe all the commandments.
As much as it had seemed that God had abandoned the people of Israel, or left his Apostles as he took his seat at the right hand of his Father, God has made known throughout the annals of history this very important fact: that he has been, and will be, with us always until the end of the age. Perhaps God occasionally takes a step back so that we can take the step forward.