Ascension Day follows the high drama of Holy Week and Easter, days that are full of interpretation and significance. But Ascension Day is rather vacuous in meaning. Jesus says to his followers: Stay here. Wait. Wait until you have been clothed with power. Why the wait? Because of fear. They were still afraid.
Sixty years ago the great Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, wrote in his diary in Ascensiontide 1961: “…at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone – or Something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”1 As for Jesus’ disciples, just as for us: God is waiting for us to say Yes, to keep saying Yes to our own lives, which will open up this channel for God’s work within us and through us.
- God’s waiting for our willingness to be a conduit of God’s power especially in those ways and places where we may be afraid. It’s to take Jesus’ at his word: “Fear not.” “Do not be anxious.”2
- God’s waiting for our readiness to receive the peace which Jesus leaves with us to courageously, zealously be present with those people, and in those relationships, in those places where there is conflict and unrest, which we could easily be tempted to avoid.5 It’s to say Yes to Jesus’ gift of peace flowing through our own lives.
- God’s waiting for our preparedness to lay down our lives in the name of Jesus.4 Our life belongs to God, to be used, and used up, as God wills. Life is like a grain of wheat that must fall into the earth and die, again and again, if we are to be abundantly alive the way God intends, and to bear the fruit that God desires.6
These days of waiting between Christ’s Ascension and Pentecost are about God’s waiting on us: God’s waiting, notfor our ability but for our availability to receive the power Jesus intends for us. To quote Dag Hammarskjöld again: “To say Yes to life is at one and the same time to say Yes to oneself… even to that element in [ourselves] which is most unwilling to let itself be transformed from fear and temptation into strength.”
Lectionary Year and Proper: 2021-22 (A)
Solemnity or Major Feast Day: Ascension Day
- Hammarskjöld (1905-1961) would die within several months in a plane crash from suspicious causes. He was posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The quote is excerpted from Markings by Dag Hammarskjöld. (Alfred A. Knopf, 1964); p. xii.
- See, e.g., Matthew 6:25-33; Matthew 10; Luke 12.
- John 14:25-27.
- John 10; John 15.
- John 12:24.
 Hammarskjöld, p. 92.
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