I have always understood Christ’s incarnation as intimately connected to his death and resurrection. What I have increasingly come to understand, in a way I don’t think I fully appreciated before, is that Christ’s ascension, (which many dioceses, including the one in which I currently live, celebrate today), and the resulting coming of the Spirit are also inextricably linked to his life, death and resurrection.
All this week, we have been listening to Jesus’ final message to his disciples. In different ways, he has conveyed to them his need to go from them “for if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I do, I will send him to you.” Jesus ascends so that the Spirit may come and, in Henri Nouwen’s words, “lead them to full intimacy with [Jesus]. His Spirit would open their eyes and make them fullly understand who he is and why he had come to be with them.”
Christ’s ascension, and the coming of the Spirit, which we will shortly celebrate, are the necessary culmination of Jesus’ life among us. They mean that God who became man both goes to prepare a place for us and indwells in us. (Someone once said to me, “I’m confused. Sometimes it sounds like God is out there and sometimes it sounds like God is within.” It is only confusing if one thinks it has to be either. Once we recognize it is both, there is no confusion.) Again, in Nouwen’s words, “the deepest communion with Jesus is the communion that happens in his absence.” Having ascended to his Father, Jesus now dwells within us in a way that could not have happened but for the ascension.
May we grow in our awareness that through Christ’s ascension we have entered into a greater intimacy with God, who dwells in us.