Yesterday was Ascension day. The day on which we remember Jesus’ going to heaven. I think most of us see this act of Jesus as a defining point. A place of separation more than connection. ‘Shucks! Jesus is gone and how we yearn for Him to be here again.’ But an attitude like this is exactly what Jesus wanted to counter. In
His carefully spoken discourse in the upper room Jesus told his
disciples that His ascension would be the best thing that could happen
to them. ‘I will not leave you as orphans’,
‘greater works will you do’, ‘it is better for you when I go for the
Father will send the Counselor.’
The disciples, just like us, were slow in their understanding of these sayings of Jesus. On
that day when Jesus was beamed up like something we can only today
understand in the genre of Star Trek, the disciples were clueless and
sadly the same stunted imagination linger in a big segment of our
Christian communities. We simply believe that God is, to use a song from yesteryear, “watching from a distance”.
In Acts we have a wonderful picture of the unimaginative way in which we are stunned into passivity by Jesus’ departure. Jesus is raised up and the disciples can only stare into heaven. I imagine them gaping into thin air, staring off into some unknown space. The angels then intervene! “What are you doing!?” they ask. “Don’t you remember all the things the Rabbi told you?”. To use another vernacular, they told His disciples in the best possible Arnold Schwarzenegger that Jesus said, “I’LL BE BACK.”
So they went back to Jerusalem, and waited. Novena
is Latin for “nine’ and that’s what Pentecost Novena is, it’s an
identification with the disciples waiting for Jesus promise. Nine days of praying and retraining our imaginations to see God’s presence among us. Pentecost Novena then becomes a time for resensitizing our distorted views of separation.
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee,"
they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same
Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the
same way you have seen him go into heaven." Acts 1:5,9-11.
will never understand early Christianity, let alone grapple with its
meaning for today, until we learn how to think of heaven and earth not
as separated by a great gulf but as interlocking, overlapping spheres