On Sunday we celebrate the feast of the Ascension (transferred from Thursday). It is vital that we realise the imagery used in this feast is not about departure but rather about presence. Jesus, as the gospel recalls, passes from the Apostles’ sight but he is still intimately with them in everything they do and say. And that presence continues in the church today. It is Christ who preaches and heals and reconciles. At his Ascension he doesn’t say ‘Over to you’ but rather ‘I am with you always.’
Pope St Leo the Great, who was Bishop of Rome in the fifth century, put it succinctly when he said: ‘After the Ascension the visible presence of our Redeemer passed over into sacraments’. Christ is still present in the world today, continuing His saving mission, but that presence is seen through sign and symbol which don’t just point to Him but making Him effectively present.
The other aspect of this feast that we must not neglect is what it tells us about ourselves. By his Ascension Jesus has taken our humanity into the Godhead. Everything that makes us truly human is therefore redeemed and saved and loved. The feast promises us that we shall share in His divinity because He has shared in our humanity.