Feast of the Ascension 2011 A

Today’s Gospel has that fascinating line about the disciples seeing the risen Lord.  They worshiped Jesus and yet at the same time the doubted.  It seems paradoxical; how can we worship what we doubt?  And yet isn’t the majority of our life full of doubt?  

Deacon Steve gave an excellent homily last weekend and in the midst of his homily he spoke about the earthly presence of Jesus vs. the spiritual and heavenly presence of Christ.  The limited earthly presence of Jesus ended so that he could be everywhere for all generations.  The great saints and mystics and the learned church fathers all make this same point.  I think it shows how great these men and women are and how I am not there yet.  Rather than letting the earthly presence of Jesus go, I am like Mary Magdalene who longs to hold on to the physical presence of Christ.  As storms go through areas leaving behind devastation, I think of Jesus who calmed the storms.  As loved one die, I want to cry out those words of Martha and Mary, “if you Jesus had been here, my relative would still be alive.”  I think of the hungry that Jesus could feed.  I think of the father who lost his two children in the tornado.  At least if Jesus had been here, such tragedies would not happen.

Dr. Eleonore Stump writes these words about Mary Magdalene: In these circumstances (i.e. the death of Jesus), she forms a plan.  She watches till he is taken down dead from the cross, and she marks where they put his dead body.  She gathers the necessary things and waits, as she must, till the time is right and the coast is clear.  Then she goes to the tomb to anoint him.  If she could not comfort him in his dying, she can anoint his body after his death.  It must have been her heart’s desire to do so.  How much she had her heart in that plan is shown by her reaction to its failure.  When she came to the tomb and found his body missing, she wept hard…there is no other biblical story in which angelic visits have so little impact on the person being visited.  In her heartbrokenness over not being able to anoint the body of Jesus, Mary Magdalene brushes off even angels.”

And so we return to the Gospel, and the apostles of Jesus have seen the glorious Christ and yet they still do not believe.  Jesus returned time after time and yet they still do not understand; rather they doubt.  Instead of Jesus answering questions, or somehow proving that he is alive and glorified, Jesus assures his disciples that he is with them always.  That invisible presence is difficult for us to believe in because we are bodily.

On one of the walls at Auschwitz, there is a poem inscribed on a wall.  This poem reminds us that sometimes faith and grace are difficult.

There is grace, though,

And wonder, on the way.

Only they are hard to see,

Hard to embrace, for

Those compelled to

Wander in darkness.

May the Eucharist give us hope and courage to believe even in those moments of doubt and discouragement.  Jesus promises us that we are never alone.

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