For 39 days, we have been rejoicing in the glory of the Resurrection, recalling the wonder of the apostles in those weeks after the first Easter. Tomorrow, Jesus ascends to the Father, fulfilling his mission on earth and preparing his disciples for the coming of the Holy Spirit. The hymn Alleluia, Sing to Jesus! captures the mystery of the Ascension in its cosmic dimension, while also reminding the faithful of Christ’s promise to remain always with us:
Though the cloud from sight received him
when the forty days were o’er
shall our hearts forget his promise?
‘I am with you ever more.’
One cannot help but think that, on a natural level, the apostles must have been filled with sorrow at our Lord’s “departure.” On the one hand, it would seem that the Ascension should not have been a surprise to them, since Jesus spoke of returning to the Father in the Last Supper discourse (John 14–17). Additionally, he told Mary Magdalene not to cling to him, since he had “not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17). Nevertheless, before Jesus’ final commission, the apostles still “doubted” (Matt. 28:17). When he finally ascends to the Father, we notice that the apostles “were looking intently at the sky” (Acts 1:10), as if to catch one last glimpse of him with their physical sight. Yet, didn’t Jesus promise, “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matt 28:20)? What was it that caused the apostles such uncertainty or doubt regarding our Lord’s promise?
One can be tempted to fall into sadness, uncertainty, or even doubt, when considering that we are not able to see Jesus face-to-face in this life. Our hymn should offer us great comfort though, for a later verse reminds us of the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to remain with us forever:
Here on earth both priest and victim
in the Eucharistic feast.
In the Eucharist, we share in the sacrifice Christ offered for our salvation. We receive the fruits of this saving action by sharing in the sacrament of his body and blood. In the Eucharist, Jesus is truly present in our midst, under the sacramental species of bread and wine. He is not distant or remote, nor is he with us in a mere symbol. Rather, Jesus is truly present, waiting to be received and adored, offering himself continually out of his infinite love for us. His very flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, is given to us in order to nourish and refresh our spirits. By sharing his very life with us in the Eucharist, Jesus also gives us, in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, “a pledge of future glory.”
This pledge of future glory in the Eucharist reminds us that Jesus does not abandon us. We need not go any further than the nearest tabernacle to experience the fulfillment of his promise to remain with us always. His Ascension into heaven, rather than being some sort of loss or departure, allows Jesus to be present at all times and in all places as he brings “his humanity into divine glory” (CCC 659). So that we may always be united with his risen, glorified body in heaven, Jesus leaves his body with us sacramentally in the most holy Eucharist. In this lasting, sacramental presence of Jesus, he entrusts himself to his Church as a reminder of his love and salvation. Feeding us with his body and blood, Jesus sustains us as we journey toward the hope of glory that awaits us in heaven—eternal life with the Blessed Trinity.
Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. (used with permission)