“Why are you men of Galilee standing here, looking into the sky? ... So from the Mount of Olives they went back to Jerusalem… And they joined in continuous prayer” (Acts 1:11.12.14).
Jesus said: “It is good for you if I go away.” And He went. I wish all those who think that they are indispensable to the Church or even to the world would do the same! We, all of us, are very much “disposable.” The seed is fruitful when it ends underground. The Ascension to Heaven of the Son of Man reveals our mystery as human beings. We know where we come from because we see where we go: we come from the Father and to Him we go back. Our life is not hanging from nothing: God is our beginning and end.
With the Ascension Jesus disappears. But He doesn’t leave us orphans. He opens for us the way to go back home. For Luke the Evangelist, history lasts two days. The first starts with Adam who runs away from God and ends with Jesus, the new Adam who goes back to the Father. He is the only begotten Son who, when He was made Man, became the first born of many brothers and sisters. With Him, after a long travail, the head came to the light. The second day embraces the sequel of the whole history: it is the progressive birth of His body, made up of all His brothers and sisters, the whole of humanity. His Ascension is a vortex that sucks us, together with Him, into glory.
Luke repeats four times that the disciples kept the eyes fixed at the sky. They were staring there because there lives the One who loves them. Where the treasure is, there the heart is, too. Each one of us goes where the heart is already; if we have no desires, we don’t move, we are already dead. To look heavenwards, towards the stars, gives us orientation on earth. It is not like the umbilical cord which ties, but the compass that helps us walk in freedom.
In the Ascension, it is Jesus’ birth to heaven that takes place and the birth of the Church here on earth. Christianity is born of Jesus’ absence, a detachment which is necessary if we want to live. The absence of the One who loves us creates a space for desires and expectation of reunion. The waiting is not empty time but a tension towards Him who is always coming to meet us with our feet that move towards Him. If we ask “when the Lord will come back,” the Lord will ask us when are we going back to Him. His coming back to us is our going towards Him. If before we used to see Him with a ‘different’ face, other than ours, now we are called to see Him in our own face transfigured into His.
“Christ doesn’t have hands: He has only our hands to accomplish His work. Christ hasn’t got feet: He has only our feet to guide people towards His paths. Christ doesn’t have lips: He has only our lips in order to tell His story to the people of our time. Christ has no means: He has only our help in order to bring the people of our time back to Himself. We are the only Bible that people can still read: we are the God’s last message written in words and deeds” (from an unknown 14th century Flemish author).
The Church is a community of brothers and sisters who bear witness to the Son. Because of this, she needs to receive the Holy Spirit, God’s very life. The Spirit teaches us how to think, how to love, walk and speak, feel and act like Jesus. After the Ascension, the disciples go back and remain all together at Jerusalem, persevering in prayer. Jerusalem is the place of the “theory” (Luke 23:48): there God revealed Himself and gave Himself completely in Jesus’ body given for us. From Him springs the Spirit, infinite love, who is poured on every creature.
One can give a gift only to somebody who desires it and asks for it, not taking it for granted but just waiting for it. This is why prayer is the source of our existence: it makes us desire and ask for God’s gift, for God Himself as gift for us. The community of the witnesses for the Son is born and will always be born as it was born in the beginning: from the going back of the brethren to Jerusalem, from their perseverance in prayer, all together, with the women and with Mary.