Some of the Church’s decisions about changing the liturgical calendar are unfortunate. I am personally of the opinion that moving Ascension Thursday to Sunday is unfortunate because it emphasizes the mystery of the Ascension at the expense of the actual historical event. Jesus did not just ascend to heaven “at some point” after His resurrection and before Pentecost. Jesus ascended to heaven forty days after His resurrection. Ash Wednesday is our forty day marker for Lent, Ascension Thursday is our forty day marker from the Resurrection. Just as your life is to be transformed by conversion and penance for forty days leading up to the Lord’s Passion and death, so your life should be transformed by the resurrection of Jesus for forty days leading up to the Ascension. Hearing about what happened to the disciples of Jesus when they ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead, hearing about how He was entrusting a mission to them, all of those experiences and that history have an important impact on our faith.
Perhaps what is most significant is how Jesus now leaves His disciples alone for ten days before Pentecost. Just as He disappeared from their sight when He was placed in the tomb, then appeared to them again at His resurrection, now He will disappear from their sight again for ten days before His Spirit appears to them in tongues of fire on Pentecost. The first time Jesus disappeared into the earth in death, the disciples were sad, confused and afraid. They did not know what to do – some of them doubted, and they hid from the Jews. Now the second time that Jesus departs from them and says, “I am going to the Father,” they know they are to wait for His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Consoler. Ten days the Apostles now understand they are to wait and pray earnestly for the Gift of the Spirit. The Spirit will bring them the strength and boldness they need to carry out the mission entrusted to them by Jesus. The Spirit will come upon us as well, let us pray often these coming days, “Veni Sancte Spiritus” “Come, Holy Spirit.”
As to why there had to be “a little while” when they would not see him, “and again a little while” and they would see him, he added the reason, saying, “Because I am going to the Father,” as if he were saying unmistakably, “After a little while I am going to be hidden from your sight within the closed space of the grave, and again after a little while I am going to appear for you to look at, after the sovereignty of death has been destroyed. This is so that I may now return to the Father, since the divinely arranged plan of my taking mortality on myself has been fulfilled, together with the triumph of my resurrection.”1
But then, if one examines, these are words of consolation: “Because I go to the Father.” For they show that his death was only a translation. And more consolation follows, for he does not say merely, “A little while and you will see me no longer” but adds, “A little while and you shall see me.” In this way he shows that he would return, that his departure would be for a brief time only and that his presence with them would be everlasting. HOMILIES ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 79.1.2
But this discourse of the Lord is also appropriate to all believers who are striving to arrive at eternal joys through the tears and distress of the present [life]. They rightly lament and weep and are sorrowful during the present [time], since they are not yet capable of seeing him whom they love. As long as they are in their body, they recognize that they are on a journey and [absent] from their fatherland and kingdom. They have no doubt that they must reach their crown by labors and contests. Their sorrow will be changed to joy when, after the struggle of this present life is over, they receive the prize of everlasting life, about which it is said in the psalm, “Those who sow in tears will reap in joy.”3
If we rejoice with the world, it is to be feared that we shall also mourn with the world. But let us mourn while the world rejoices, and we shall afterward rejoice when the world mourns.4
- HOMILIES ON THE GOSPELS 2.13. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 211). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 211). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- HOMILIES ON THE GOSPELS 2.13. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 212). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON IDOLATRY 13. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (pp. 212–213). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.