The Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord


John Dalla Costa

If you left St. Basil last week by the western exit you were no doubt as stunned as I was by the trees in full blossom at the gate to Scollard Park. Pausing to wonder at the colour I was struck by the thought that – after a long winter – the trees came back to life by flowering first.

Gardeners may well know this already but for an urban mensch like me it was shocking to realize that seed-making begins the season. As the blossoms disappear the harvest is already forming. All the effort and energy of summer will be in support of the growth of these seeds and their fruits.

The feast of the Ascension marks a similar transition point in the church. With Easter, the dark winter of humanity’s exile from God ended, and for forty days the Risen Word blossomed among us, radiating the joyful truth of God’s loving presence.

Today with the Ascension that blossoming ends, yet the seeds now bearing the DNA of the Incarnation are set to grow and bear fruit on their own. We, the church, are those seeds.

The mid-twentieth century Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner observed that most Christians are indifferent about the Ascension, experiencing it as a mere milepost on the way between Easter and Pentecost. Forming his theology out of prayerful devotion, Rahner wrote that “it is alarming that we feel no grief” about the Lord’s departure. How can we not miss the one who chose us, made us friends, healed our wounds, freed our hearts, held us in embrace, forgave our deepest ugliness, and restored to us the capacity to be in God’s love?

For Rahner, the agony of this separation participates in the sweetness of love. And the consolation, of staggering significance for all humanity, is that Jesus has been “taken up” as one of us. At the Transfiguration the apostles glimpsed the Lord’s divine nature breaking through in human time. With the Ascension they beheld the Lord’s human nature breaking through and being taken up into God’s eternity.

How sweet a sight that must have been!