Present in Spirit

A Weekly Reflection, Sunday, May 28, 2017

By: Andrew Moore

Andrew-Moore-webThis past Thursday was Ascension Day when we celebrate the resurrected Jesus ascending into heaven. When I was little I always pictured Jesus as a rocket, flames bursting from his feet as he shot up into the sky. Like an ancient Buzz Lightyear with one arm pointing to the sky, he would declare “To infinity and beyond,” as slack-jawed disciples looked on in wonder. As fun as that image might be, somehow I don’t think that’s how it happened.

But I also have a hard time picturing it as a serene event. In the book of Acts, Luke says that “as the disciples were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” Surely Jesus didn’t step onto a cloud and slowly and gracefully float up into heaven. And he didn’t just disappear either, the disciples watched him going. Was there a giant pair of hands that reached down and scooped him up?

I think that I ponder the imagery of the Ascension, the mechanism of it, because I just don’t like the idea of Jesus leaving. I don’t like to think of him going away, of watching his human self floating off. And if I feel that way, how much more painful would it have been for the disciples, his close friends, to watch him go? How must they have yearned for just one more hour, one more day, one more conversation with him.

In the chapel of the Shrine of our Lady of Walsingham there is a statue installed above the altar. A round hole in the ceiling is sculpted to look like clouds, and out of those clouds hang two feet with red marks on the insteps, the wounded feet of Jesus. In this statue, Jesus is permanently enshrined mid-flight. He is no longer fully here but he is not fully gone either.  It’s a powerful symbol. It reminds us that though Jesus may no longer be present in human form, walking alongside us, he is present in spirit, accompanying us at each step of our earthly journey. We don’t have to reach far to find him.

I find that comforting. Jesus ascending into heaven wasn’t a permanent exit. It was a transition to a different kind of relationship with each of us. Whether he shot up, floated off, or got his feet stuck in the clouds, Jesus is still here, still heaping God’s abundant love upon us, still inviting us to follow him.