Departed, but still with us

Departed, but still with us

The Ascension of the Lord. Fr Austin Milner preaches on the presence of the exalted Christ.

Today we celebrate what appears to be a leave taking for Jesus has passed beyond our sight. Yet we remember that he has said: “Behold I am with you always even to the consummation of the world”. Although it was a leave-taking the apostles returned to Jerusalem ‘filled with joy’ because he has passed beyond our sight not to abandon us but to be our hope.

Has Jesus gone away from us, or is he still present with us? Has he abandoned us or is with us always? Let us then consider the way in which he is absent and the way in which he is still present; the sense in which he is with us and the sense in which we are with him.

First of all he is no longer present with us as one we can meet in the ordinary superficial way in which we can meet one another. There were many who associated with him while he walked this earth and never knew him, never really met him. Only through faith can one meet the Son of God.

Many will say ‘You preached in our village, you walked in our streets’, but he will say to them, ‘I tell you I do not know you.’ Now that he is ascended into heaven we can no longer meet him in that superficial way, but he is very present to those who believe in him and love him.

Before he went he said to his disciples:

I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will also. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I you.(Jn 14:18,20)

He is the head and we are his body. A living body is not separated from its head, and in a sense we are already where our head is. The Son of God became a human being so that might unite all human being with himself. Now that he is no longer among us as a man we are still united with him since he is the body of which we are the members. We are in with him, because we are the body of which he is the head; it is from him that we receive and are alive with a share in his risen life.

Jesus goes on to explain that this happens above all through love.

‘They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them’ (John 14:21, 23).

As we heard him say in the Gospel two week ago:

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:4).

Another way in which Jesus is present with us is through the Holy Spirit. Jesus has gone away but he promised to return to us in the person of the Holy Spirit:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you (John 14:16,18).

He is not here to be touched with the hand or seen with the eyes. Only through the symbols of our sacramental celebrations, if we celebrate them in faith, can we in a sense make bodily contact with him because in the sacraments he comes to us through touch of water and oil, through the smell of chrism, through taste of bread and wine, which has become his body and blood.

In faith we can still hear him as he speaks to us when the scriptures are read in church. He often makes himself know in the depth of our hearts with secret whisperings.

If Jesus is still with us then what power we have! We must believe in that power and use that power.

You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.
You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Readings: Acts 1:1-11 | Eph 1:17-23 | Mark 16:15-20

fr Austin Milner spent many years working in the English Province's mission in the Caribbean, and latterly taught Christian Worship, Sacramental Theology and Church History at Blackfriars, Oxford. He died on 29th November 2010. May he rest in peace.