‘On Ascension Day in the fourth century AD at Jerusalem, Christians processed to the Mount of Olives to hear readings about Jesus’ ascension into heaven. But they actually kept the feast at Bethlehem on the same day as Pentecost. The two go together. The ascended Lord has not deserted his people; the great work is to begin with the coming of the spirit.
St Luke records that Jesus appeared to his disciples for forty days after his resurrection, teaching them about the kingdom of God. He was then taken up out of their sight and appeared no more. St Mark says virtually the same and explains that Jesus went to sit on the right hand of God. St Matthew simply records the last appearance of Jesus to the Eleven, and Jesus’ charge to them to go and make disciples of all nations. We might be tempted to look upon this event as Jesus saying goodbye for the last time. It is Matthew who brings us back to earth with the words of Jesus, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world”. As one preacher put it, the Ascension is not the farewell of the risen Lord, but his move “out of the here and into the everywhere”. The localised mission is at an end. Jesus has moved on a fairly small stage, as have the apostles. Now, the whole world is the field of their mission, and the risen Jesus is no more confined to the shores of Galilee or the secret places of Jerusalem but is present in every corner of the earth as he is today’.
John Halliburton, 1935-2004 (Canon Chancellor, St Paul’s Cathedral, London, 1989-2003)
Fr Lee Kenyon