Ascension – Absence and doubt

The first question that emerges on this feast of the Ascension is why sometimes it is better for a person to leave. For parents, that day when a child leaves home to go to university or on their first big European back-packing working-holiday, the absence can be heart-wrenching. Yet we all know that there is a need to let a young person find themselves and their own identity.

In the case of Jesus, his departure is very different. He needs to be physically absent so that he can be present in even more wonderful ways – present not only in the word of God and in the sacramental life of the church, but also in the call to friendship and discipleship. The conclusion to Matthew’s gospel is fantastic. He carefully places the action back in Galilee, where it all began, and high on the side of a mountain (of course). The eleven disciples (with the absence of Judas) make their way and when they see Jesus, some fall down in worship – although some hesitated (distazo in the Greek, which could also mean ‘doubted’). Even though some hesitate – perhaps because as good Jewish lads they are still not entirely sure that worship of anyone other then the one and only true God, the LORD, is appropriate. But it is clear from Matthew, that he invites his readers to join those who worshipped. Even so, Jesus draws near to all of them – even those who distazo’d. 

It is then that Jesus offers to them his final commission, reminding them that “all authority on heaven and earth belongs to Jesus” so “Therefore, Go!” Go into all the world, not only to baptise (initiate into the sacramental life of the church) and teach (which the church has also very faithfully fulfilled) but primarily to “make disciples.” This call, which the church has sometimes resisted and often fails to fulfil today remains the heart of the great commission. But we are not alone in this. Jesus promises, as Emmanuel, God-with-us to be with us always, and that we will also have the gift of the Holy Spirit to provide all that we need.

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