In these days after the Ascension, the Liturgy calls us to turn and find our hope and security in God. Certainly this was difficult for the early disciples, who tested Jesus to see if he was who he said he was. They were satisfied with what they found, and said they believed in him. But Jesus here speaks an essential truth of the spiritual life: it’s easy to believe when things are going okay. He prophecies that they will all be tested, and indeed they were, and were scattered, and had to come to belive in him all over again.
The same will be true for us disciples in our own lives. We can make an easy enough profession of faith when we are well and things are going smoothly. But the minute some kind of challenge enters our lives, we have to decide if we are believers all over again. It’s not easy to believe in the ascended Jesus – he is not immediately visible to our sight. But, even though he is unseen, he is still very much with us.
He may be in the heaven of our hopes, but he also walks among us. We have to look for signs of his presence everywhere we go. And we will find those signs in moments of joy, times of inspiration, words from others that uplift us, and, especially, in the Eucharist. Jesus didn’t disappear from our lives when he ascended into heaven; he promised to be with us until the end of time. We are sustained by the hope that we will join him one day in the place he is preparing for us.
The world may very well scatter us and give us trouble; Jesus said as much. But we can take courage in the fact that Jesus has overcome the world and has not abandoned us.
Today we’re gathered on what is, for us, the eve of the Ascension. While the reading that we have in today’s Gospel is from John’s account of the eve of the Passion, the words could well have been spoken to the Apostles on the eve of the Ascension too. So Jesus is speaking of a day in the future when his disciples could go directly to God the Father and ask for their needs in Jesus’ name. That would be possible because Jesus has redeemed fallen humanity, and brought us back to the Father, cleansed of our iniquity. But as they hear it, they had to be confused and maybe even a little brokenhearted at the idea of Jesus leaving them.
But Jesus did have to leave them, because the truth of it is that nothing will happen with the fledgling Church until he does return to heaven. Only then will the Father send the Holy Spirit to be with the Church until the end of time, giving the early disciples and us later disciples the grace and strength to go forward and proclaim the kingdom and call the world to repentance and grace. If God’s purpose is to be advanced on this earth, then Jesus has to return to the Father. If the Spirit does not descend, the Church would not be born. If the Church were not born, the Gospel would be but an obscure footnote in the history of the world.
The Good News for us is that the Holy Spirit has indeed come into the world, and continues to work among us today, as often as we call on him. “Ask and you will receive,” Jesus says, and so we ask and receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit for the glory and praise of God. We disciples, we friends of Jesus, can count on his blessing, the rich gift of the Holy Spirit, the great witness of the Church. Our lives are enriched by our faith and our discipleship. On this eve of the Ascension, we are yet again on the edge of our seats, longing for the fullness of salvation. But even our waiting is glory for God: what we do here on earth, what we suffer in our lives, all that we celebrate — all this will bear fruit for the glory of God.