We are an Ascension people. The Lectionary gives me a hard choice for my reflections this Sunday. Ascension is supposed to be on Thursday, the fortieth day from Easter. Where I live, the liturgy celebrated it then, but in most of the US it is transferred to Sunday. So my Sunday reflections could be on Ascension, or on the Sunday after Ascension. I’m going to write about the Sunday after Ascension, because that is the time in which we live: after the Ascension.
In the Liturgy, we are between Ascension and Pentecost. The first reading gives us nothing but the apostles going to pray while they wait for Pentecost. Of course, we live after Pentecost – but this is our time too, the time after Ascension, of praying for the Holy Spirit.
They go back to the Upper Room to pray, to the room of the Last Supper. That is what we do at the Mass: we live in the time after the Ascension, praying for the Holy Spirit to come on us and make us the Church. And they pray with Mary, and that’s what we do with Mary. Mary doesn’t teach us activism, she just teaches us how to pray, to long for Christ and beg for the Holy Spirit. We are in the time after the Ascension.
Our reading from John’s Gospel finally takes the turn to Jesus’s final prayer. John 13 is the washing of the feet. John 14-16 is the farewell discourse, all the final things Jesus says to his disciples. But John 17 is his prayer to the Father.
Both the discourse (14-16) and the prayer (17) mingle the Cross with the Ascension. Our reading this Sunday, for example, ends, “And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you.” He is leaving through the Cross, and he will leave through the Ascension. Cross-Ascension are one Paschal mystery. It is the mystery of our time, the time after the Ascension.
The Gospel takes us through several related ideas.
“Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you.” Our readings talk a lot about glory. Our short reading from First Peter looks forward to “when his glory is revealed,” it says “the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you,” and it says when we suffer we should “glorify God because of the name.”
“Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you.” We are able to know the Father, to appreciate his glory, because he shares that glory with us. We can see him only to the extent that he gives us a share in his divine nature. When the glory of God dwells in us, we can see God in his glory, and show that glory to others.
“This is eternal life, that they should know you.” Eternal life isn’t “after” this life. Eternal life is knowing God. Eternal life is contemplative, it is nothing other than knowing and loving the goodness and the glory of God. It is “after” this life inasmuch as we cannot yet see him. But it begins now, in every taste we get of his glory.
“I revealed your name. . . . And they have kept your word. . . . The words you gave to me I have given to them.” The Christian mystery is the mystery of Revelation. God shares himself with us. He tells us, of course, lots about how we should live – but ultimately what he shares is his “name”: knowledge of himself, divine intimacy.
And that knowledge is mediated through words. Words are mysterious things. Of course the letters on the paper are nothing; the strange sounds coming from our mouth are nothing; and our ideas are far short of God. Yet somehow, the mystery of Scripture is the mystery of a God who tells us about himself. Somehow, through these words, we catch a glimpse.
The glory he gives us is the deeper part of our knowing him: the grace, and light, of faith. But faith comes alive through meditation on his words.
“I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours.” The words sound harsh. But the point is grace. The point is that we have been given an amazing gift. Sometimes we get carried away by talking about how everyone is a child of God. Of course there is an important sense in which that is true. But never forget how privileged we are to have been called beyond the world, given a share in the glory of Christ, given knowledge of his name through faith in his words. That’s not a put-down to other people. It’s an amazing gift to us.
What does it mean to be an Ascension people? It means to seek the things that are above, to be called to a glory beyond this world.
In what ways do you find yourself settling for less than the glory of the Ascended Christ?