At the Ascension, celebrated yesterday, we witness a handover of epic proportion. Christ took his earthly body into the heavenly realm leaving the disciples to become his active body on earth. The ones charged with responsibility for preserving the faith and growing his kingdom. He did not abandon us, like an absent landlord, for he soon sent his Spirit to guide and made himself present in every tabernacle where the true church gathers. But we no longer behold his human form. It was time for the apostles to take up the reigns. What trust God shows his people! What a responsibility we face as the church on earth.
That the Lord was ‘received from sight’ in a cloud is fascinating. Because that was how God appeared to his people in the Old Testament when he led them from Egypt into the promised land. What are we to make of this intertwining of God’s ancient form with his Christological form? Surely it is a firm reminder that the Ascension was no moment of innovative rupture but one of deep intended continuity. As all authentic change in the church must be. If it is to remain faithful to what went before. The faith is centred on objective truth, divinely revealed, not on the subjective opinions of man.
The Gospel is not ours for changing then. God does not do U-turns because he has been working his purpose out from eternity. He is, to quote scripture, the same yesterday, today and forever. So whilst we are called to become His body on earth- we are not called to tinker with the deposit entrusted to us. Christ remains the head. We are to be stewards not kings. Meaning paradigm shifts in established teaching are out because there is but one eternal paradigm. We must recall whose faith we profess and remain obedient to the Master who ascended.
The ascension was a time when God entrusted the deposit of faith to His Church for safekeeping. History shows sometimes it has been done well- sometimes badly. In 2018, sad to say, given widespread confusion and apostasy in our day, we seem to be enduring a most lamentable era. One senses many hirelings and not nearly enough authentic shepherds. So be it. Don’t let weak faith in others, no matter their seniority, no matter how widespread, ever get you down.
Because the authentic church often has dwelt in backwater stables not in the palaces of the powerful. And it often has been upheld not by the many but the few. An indisputable fact when one ponder the lives of Saints and the Martyrs. Learn from them. That when others are losing their heads and abandoning Christ you may remain steadfast. Even if the whole world apostatises you have the freedom to remain close to Christ. And in times of trouble and confusion such simple lowly fidelity is a precious gift to God. It presents him with at least one life to work through. St. Athanasius had it right when he wrote “Even if Catholics faithful to tradition are reduced to a handful they will be the ones who are the true Church of Jesus Christ”
On this Ascension day let us pledge to be part of that true eternal mystical church, as we seek to remain faithful to Christ in all things, as we await the return of our Master. To him be the glory. Amen.