We are approaching Pentecost and the end of the Easter Season. Two feasts, Ascension and Pentecost, set the tone for the days and months that follow the celebration of Easter and for our continued efforts to know, live and share our faith during this Year of Faith.
Ascension Thursday is a beautiful feast. The readings recount Jesus’ departure from His apostles. For this reason we might think this feast marks an ending. By His life, death and resurrection Jesus has completed His earthly life and ministry and accomplished our salvation. He is leaving His companions and returning to His Father. This is the end of the story. Or is it?
Usually the departure of someone we love triggers a sense of loss. Jesus had been with the apostles for three years. They were a pretty “tight group.” They traveled with Jesus, heard Him preach, saw His miracles and were tutored by Him when they did not understand His message. After His death and resurrection, they were among those to whom He appeared, dispelling their sorrow and confirming their faith.
I think if Jesus’ departure were the end of the story, however, we would have a hard time explaining why today’s Gospel tells us that when Jesus parted from the apostles they returned to Jerusalem “with great joy.” There is something more here than a departure. As a matter of fact the Feast of the Ascension is a beginning not an ending.