Solemnity of the Ascension: Loneliness and the Presence
There were only eleven of them, eleven disciples. Judas had betrayed the Lord. Matthias had not yet been chosen. So just eleven men went to Galilee following the message Jesus had given to them on Easter Sunday through Mary Magdalen. They were told to meet Jesus on the mountain in Galilee. What were they thinking when they climbed that mountain? Were they thinking about Moses who climbed Mt. Sinai to receive God’s covenant of the Ten Commandments? Perhaps they were thinking about Elijah who climbed that same mountain, only called Horeb. Elijah was told he would experience the Presence of God and expected the same display of power and awe that Moses experienced. Only for Elijah, God’s power was in the still, quiet voice of the Spirit. Maybe the disciples were thinking about a mountain they climbed only a few years before, the Mountain of the Beatitudes and the teaching that Jesus gave there, the Sermon on the Mount. Perhaps they were thinking about the Transfiguration, the mystical appearance of Jesus, Moses and Elijah, also on a mountain. Certainly, they knew that there would be a special experience of God waiting for them on the mountain in Galilee.
When they got to the top, they found Jesus there. They saw Him, and they worshiped him. They realized that He was the Son of God. Yet, some of them still were full of doubt. How could it be possible that this man with whom they walked and ate and talked over the last three years, whose violent death they had fled, how could it be that he could have risen from the dead and be waiting for them on the mountain? Was this a dream? Was it an apparition? Some of the disciples still doubted. Jesus answered their doubts immediately: “All power in heaven and earth has been given to me. Now, go from here and make disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Jesus himself proclaims the Divine Trinity and empowers the disciples to bestow the life of the Trinity on the Baptized.
"Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you, and know that I am with you always, until the end of time.”
The disciples became apostles. The learners, disciples, were sent, apostles. How could these eleven transform the world? They could transform the world through the power they received. They could transform the world through the Presence of the Lord. But Jesus was ascending to the Father. He would no longer be walking with them, teaching them and guiding them as He had been the last three years. Still, He said to them, “Know that I am with you, always.” They would not be alone.
We are not alone, either; even though we often have feelings of abandonment in life. We often feel alone. Even the busiest of Moms with a house full of children and an attentive husband feels alone in the world. How can anyone understand her fears, her struggles, her upset? Everyone compliments her, but no one realizes how tired she is. She can talk to her mother, but her mother only says it will pass. She might as well talk to the wall.
That attentive and dutiful husband likewise feels overwhelmed with his responsibilities to the present and future of his family. He doesn’t want to burden his wife. She doesn’t fully understand why his fear of unemployment is so intense. Men have been raised to be the provider for the family. Most men are devastated when they are unable to provide. The husband can try talking to his friends, but the conversations men have with each other are very different than those women have with other women. Women usually speak about feelings and emotions. Men speak about cold hard facts. So for the man, fears are not discussed. As a result he also feels alone in life.
Even the most pious senior who says three rosaries a day and is crowded with loved ones checking in on Gramps, on Mom, on Good Old Mr. or Mrs. Jones, even the most faithful senior, feels very alone in the world. Everyone thinks that he is a man of supreme faith, she a woman like the matriarchs of the Old Testament. How can they tell others that they are afraid to die? How can they tell them that they are often afraid to think about the past because most of those they knew way back then are no longer alive?
For teenagers and young adults the feeling of being alone can be even worse. As they enter into maturity, their first experiences of rejection, of defeat, of questioning all they were taught as children, convince them that no one understands them. Every teenager thinks that he or she is alone. Every teenager is convinced that their experiences have never been felt by anyone else. When the teenager says, “You don’t know what it is like to be in love, Mom and Dad,” he or she is projecting onto the world a feeling that is new to him or her. Although we might chuckle at the statement, the truth is that none of us know the feelings inside the Teen. He or she is truthful in feeling alone.
Even our little children, often feel very alone. How many times has the six year old climbed into Mommy and Daddy’s bed because she or he could not bear the feeling of being alone? How many times has the school age child wanted to go with Mom or Dad to the store just to be with him or her.
Jesus knows what it is like to be alone. Jesus, one of us, the one who died deserted by all, felt the loss of his Father’s Presence and cried out, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” He experienced the human feeling of loneliness. Jesus’ answer to loneliness is his Resurrection, Ascension and the sending of the Spirit, Pentecost. Now no one who calls upon Him will ever be alone. “Know that I am with you always until the end of days.” I don’t think that there are any more reassuring words of Scripture than those. We are not alone. Jesus is with us. In fact the name he is given in this same Gospel is Emmanuel, God with Us. He never deserts us. He never leaves us alone.
So go out and get to work. Tell the world about the Messiah. Preach through your lives, our lives, and when we think we are alone, we need to realize that Jesus is closer to us than ever before. He didn’t ascend into heaven to leave us. He entered into the dimension of the spiritual so we could experience the Power of God within us, the Holy Spirit, and bring His Presence to the world.
We will never be alone. “Know that I am with you always until the end of time.”