On the Solemnity of the Ascension the Church celebrates Our Lord reaching the finish line. After forty days of being with the disciples after his Resurrection, which we have celebrated during these forty days of the Easter season, Jesus has crossed into Heaven to take His place at the Father’s right hand, as the prophecies foretold for the Messiah. The Father has crowned him with the glory he merited by his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, and in turn he is eternally asking the Father for each of us–by name–to receive the graces we need to join him in eternity.
The disciples thought this was the end of the story. Every Jew in those days knew the Messiah was supposed to clean house and establish a kingdom that would last forever, which is why they asked Jesus right before his departure if he was going to restore the kingdom to Israel. We can think the same thing. Something’s not quite right with the world. There is a despair and decay and violence, and sometimes it seems evil is winning. We want God to come and clean house. We even expect it. Which is why we have to remember Jesus’ answer in the First Reading: “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons.” We can’t blame them. We all want results and tidy endings. They were still in such shock that the angels had to come and tell them, “why are you standing there?”
We’re often so guilty of the same thing because we don’t realize that Christ reaching the finish line doesn’t mean that the race is finished: we still have to cross the finish line. Jesus is just the first runner across. We’re all in a race like an open marathon. Some run it, some walk it, some make it a family outing, but everyone is heading for the finish line. There are runners who train all year long, who’ve been running morning after morning, training for the hardest race of their life, striving to be the first across the finish line. In the race of life these runners are the saints, who suffered and sacrificed and beat their bodies into submission with their eyes fixed on the eternal prize. We all want to have that glory of blowing through the finish line tape. But we know to that there are those who have been longing for it, and at the end, battered, cramped, wheezing, just manage to drag themselves across. In this race getting across the finish line is what counts. The common denominator for all of us is that we have to set our sights on the finish line and keep moving. We shouldn’t wait for angels to come and ask us “why are you standing there?”
As we prepare over these next ten days for the Holy Spirit to be poured out on us on Pentecost Sunday, let’s ask the Spirit to show us that one thing in our lives that is an obstacle to uniting ourselves more closely to God; let’s ask the Spirit to help us pick up the pace in order to blow through the only finish line that really matters: eternity.
Readings: Acts 1:1–11; Psalm 47:2–3, 6–9; Ephesians 1:17–23; Mark 16:15–20. Author note: in some dioceses the Solemnity of the Ascension is celebrated on the Sunday before Pentecost Sunday instead of ten days before Pentecost, which is the traditional day for the solemnity. I have opted to reflect on the liturgy today, and on Sunday I’ll reflect on the Seventh Sunday of Easter.