And so the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven; there at the right hand of God he took his place, while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.
Mark 16: 19-20
On this Feast of the Ascension, we continue to reflect on the message of Jesus, as recorded in John’s gospel: “It is better for you that I go.” The addition to Mark’s gospel, from which we read today, describes the Ascension of Jesus as involving two actions: Jesus is “taken up” and, as we read in Acts, “a cloud took him from their sight.” So the first action is the loss of the presence of the bodily Jesus. Jesus’s place is at the right hand of God. But, for those who have come to share his life, there is a second action. Their place is to “go out’ into the world and to “preach everywhere” trusting that the Lord is “working with them.” Jesus “leaves” the world in one way, that he may go “into the world” in a fuller way, in and through the lives of his disciples. This is the gift and presence of the Spirit.
We, as the disciples, must let go of the Jesus we know and desir, if we are to become identified with him, to continue to do his work, which, as he makes clear, is his Father’s work.
In the gospel of John, especially, we see Jesus’s identifying himself with his works, which, he points out are not his but rather his Father’s. Jesus is only recognized for who he is when he is seen as an instrument of the Father’s will and work.
The Ascension is the “celebration” of the change in presence of Jesus. Now the work continues through those of us who are, with Jesus, instruments of God’s loving, creative work in the world. As Jesus disappears from sight, so are we to disappear into the work we have been given to do by God. This feast reminds us that as the disciples passed from relating to Jesus in the flesh to being his presence in the world, so we too are called to detach from all our notions, ideas, and needs of Jesus to being simply a unique instrument of his life and work.
Whoever now wishes to see properly what is the excellence and the profit of perfect detachment, let that person take good heed of Christ’s words, when he spoke about his human nature and said to his disciples: “It is expedient for you that I go from you, for if I do not go, the Holy Spirit cannot come to you” (Jn 16:7). This is just as if he were to say: “You have taken too much delight in my present image, so that the perfect delight of the Holy Spirit cannot be yours. So detach yourselves from the image, and unite yourselves to the formless being, for God’s spiritual consolation is delicate; therefore he will not offer it to anyone except to the one who disdains bodily consolations.”
. . . Since the delight we might have in Christ’s bodily image deprives us of receptivity for the Holy Spirit, how much more shall we be deprived of God by the ill-ordered delight that we take in transient consolations. So detachment is the best of all, for it purifies the soul and cleanses the conscience and enkindles the heart and awakens the spirit and stimulates our longings and shows us where God is and separates us from created things and unites itself with God.
Meister Eckhart, On Detachment