05 Editorial - Ascension - A new Presence

posted May 9, 2018, 11:33 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated May 9, 2018, 11:34 AM ]
An authentic scripture-based understanding of Ascension warrants that we should never speak of Easter as Jesus coming back from the dead. This is not because we do not believe in the Resurrection, but because the word 'back' would convey that Jesus returned once again to His earthly life, and not to the reality of His going forward to a new glorious life – a new Creation.

This is not just a trivial play with words, but fundamental to our understanding of the Resurrection, and therefore of our own salvation in Christ. The first point to remember is that Jesus' risen life is not the same as the pre-Resurrection life, what Saint Paul calls the life we now live in the flesh. The appearances of the risen Christ to His disciples indicate that there is something different about Jesus. Unrecognisable and then recognisable. 'None of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord' (John 21:12).

He still had on His body the marks of His Passion – the holes in His hands, His feet, His side. That is the second point to remember: Jesus' Resurrection does not undo His crucifixion; it completes it. This is part of why we shouldn't say He came back to life, as if the Resurrection wiped away the crucifixion. This is especially important for us, because we have to realise that resurrection lies on the other side of crucifixion for us also: only when we nail to the cross our vanities, our follies and our wickedness will we enter into the life of the risen Christ. Only when we can say, "I have died with Christ, buried my sins in the tomb, and now it is no longer I who live, but Christ in me" will we have gone forward into the new Creation that Christ has inaugurated for us and for the whole cosmos.

Such a relisation helps us to understand the significance of the Ascension. It is a celebration of Jesus' presence with us, not His disappearance. Of course, this is precisely what the Gospel tells us: "I am with you always, to the end of the age.” He is with us in our minds, with us in our hearts. He is with us in spirit, indeed. But in the Spirit, and that means not 'rather than in the body.' Far from being less real, less bodily than when He was with His disciples in Galilee and in Jerusalem, His presence with us now is more real and more bodily.

There is something mysterious about the risen body – it seems to be eminently tangible, and yet can pass through locked doors. How He is present is for the time being, a mystery and we only have some clues. One of these, is the Eucharist, for here Christ is truly, bodily, really present at every Mass, in every tabernacle. Another is what Saint Paul tells us, explaining His other form of presence, which is the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ – "the fullness of Him who fills all in all."

This means that wherever the Church is present, preaching the Gospel as He commanded, bringing the love and mercy of God shown to us on the Cross, into the darkness of people's lives, there indeed Christ is to be found. We are members of that body, that authentic, powerful presence of Christ, when we leave behind our sins and move forward into new life. In the gift of the Eucharist, we have a foretaste of the fullness of the Resurrection life, when we turn from our sins and back to God, and allow the life of Christ to make itself felt in and through our loving presence in the world.

Fr Richard Ounsworth a scripture scholar at Blackfriars, Oxford.