God uses geographical settings to communicate His messages. Deserts, valleys, rough roads, verdant pastures and many more are used to help us to imagine what God asks of us. When some expect to hear God’s word in the raging wind, He comes in a gentle breeze. When we expect God to appear in the most prestigious places, He meets us on a leisurely walk on the road. Even a blazing bush can utter the voice of God.
But there are some predictable settings that God uses to get people’s attention. When summoned or invited to the mountaintop, you can expect God to be present. Moses is summoned to the mountaintop during a difficult time in his leadership. God makes His presence known and tries to encourage Moses. Recall the Prophet Isaiah (25:6) painting the scene of the rich feast offered by God, or the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12), or the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-5), or the hill of Golgotha (Mark 15:22-25).
The Ascension happens on a mountaintop, the place where we meet God. Jesus told the disciples that He must leave them. He promises to send an Advocate and the disciples immediately ask for reassurance. They want to know ahead of time how God will fulfill His promises. This is another occasion that the disciples have to choose between guarantees based on what they see and possess or based on the promises of God. They are asked once again to “walk by faith and not by sight.”
He was taken from their sight, just as He had said. Instead of doing what they were told, they continued to look up to the heavens. He had asked them to go and await the outpouring of the Advocate but they remained staring into the skies. There are always reminders for us of what we are supposed to do, even when we hesitate in fear or anxiety. Once again, the messengers of God show up and ask the obvious question. “Why are you looking up? He is gone, just like He said.” Now what?
We are walking this journey of Eastertime together. Each step draws us along the same path as those early disciples. We have experienced the joy of Jesus’ words and deeds in our lives. We have all had to walk through circumstances that looked deadly but also had a resurrection attached. We have all had the necessary losses in our lives so that something new and deeper could come about. We have needed heavenly and earthly reminders in our moments of paralysis or fear to keep on keeping on. Living faithfully between the mountaintop experiences is just as important as the mountaintop experiences. Can you pause a moment and find yourself on this journey of discipleship?
Just because it is Ascension Sunday doesn’t mean that your life exactly matches the sequence of the Church’s liturgical cycle. You may be in your own Calvary experience right now. Maybe your current experiences match the losses that those early disciples had when Jesus left. You might be staring at an empty tomb and wondering what it means. Give holy reverence to wherever you are on this journey of faith. God is with you and this Paschal Mystery of living, dying and rising is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Keep noticing how the movements of your own life can be identified with the aspects of Jesus’ life. You are in good company. You are being accompanied by One who loves you deeply and is faithful until the end of time.
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.
Editor’s note: Bishop Robert J. Hermann is taking a break from writing the Sunday Scriptures column.