Finding Inner Strength in the Absence of Jesus
ASCENSION: Jesus had to go, so we could find the strength to follow
The Acts of the Apostles tells us that Jesus somehow floats off into the ether – perhaps like a helium balloon that a little girl has mistakenly let go of at the Royal Show. And we all know it’s not coming back! This imagery is a Luke thing, and we also hear it in Mark. But for Matthew Jesus never went anywhere. He is the Immanuel (God-with-us) and on Jesus’ lips, we hear “I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.” So, does he stay or does he go?
The Gospel writers are trying to describe a new mode of existence where Jesus appears absent, yet is present to us in a way as never before. In the book of Acts Jesus does disappear from the apostles' sight as he ascends, but he does so to be present in another more intimate way. Jesus goes away to exist interiorly to us through the gift of faith, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, appearing to depart behind the clouds is an invitation for us to seek after him through faith.
More than that. Appearing to have departed to ‘the beyond’ signifies the whole of creation being enveloped and taken into the life of God. Instead of being absent, Jesus is now everywhere present in a new way.
Having ascended Jesus now is ushering to join him in his heavenly mode of being. As we draw closer to Jesus through faith, we draw closer to Heaven itself.
So instead of floating away from us like that balloon, Jesus calls to find him in our hearts, and in our community. Importantly, we are not reliant on him as the Apostles were, instead we must work with him, relying on the inner strength he gives us.
Kung-fu-panda is a wonderful example of why Jesus had to go away! The guy was totally reliant on master Shifu (who dies ☹) … Poor Po, he was lost without him. In the end, when Po needed strength to defeat Tai Lung he had to find it within himself. Po, the true dragon warrior, had to find the inner strength to do all the things taught him by master Shifu.
In this analogy, with the master (Jesus) absent, we must find the inner strength to do all the things taught to us by Jesus. We do this through turning inwards, relying on the gifts of the Holy Spirit who makes Jesus present in our hearts, even when he is physically absent. And this is more profound than it was the case that Jesus was physically in our midst!
Truly Jesus had to go, so we could find the strength to follow.