Thursday, May 25, 2017: The Holy Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ
The reading from Acts reminds us though God reveals His will to us, though He reveals Himself to us and draws us into communion with Him, there are some things about His will, about Himself, that God doesn’t reveal. And, of course, because these things aren’t revealed, we don’t know what they are.
There is, however, one thing we know we don’t know because God has told us He won’t tell us.
We don’t know when, in the words of the Creed, Jesus will come back as Judge of the living and the dead. This is what the Apostles asked Jesus in the moments before His Ascension: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?” Jesus answers that it isn’t for them, it isn’t for the Church, it isn’t for us, for you or for me “to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority.”
St Ephrem the Syrian says that God hides things from us, and tells us He is doing so, to inspire us to “keep watch.” If the time of the Last Judgment, “were to be revealed,” it would be to our harm. If we knew when Jesus was coming as Judge we would grow indifferent to His judgment. While God “has indeed said He will come, … He did not define when,” St Ephrem says, so that “all generations and ages will thirst for Him.”
In other words, in this and in all things God acts in such a way as to keep the desire for Him alive in the human heart.
And so immediately after telling the Apostles what they won’t know–after kindling their desire–Jesus tells them they “shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”
But even here, the fine details of the future are left unspoken. But this doesn’t cause the Apostles to be discouraged. Why? Because Jesus speaks in such a way as to inspire deeper love and greater devotion in the Apostles.
Remember what we just read in the Gospel.
Though they are momentarily stunned by seeing Jesus ascend into Heaven when the angels explain to them what has happened the Apostle return “to Jerusalem with great joy” and are “continually in the temple blessing God.”
Sometimes we think–sometimes I think–if only God’s will was laid out for us clearly and in minute detail we would be happy. But if God were to do this, what would happen to human freedom and creativity? If everything was laid out for me, if I had a step-by-step plan that I followed as I would a recipe, I wouldn’t be God’s co-worker but merely a spiritual functionary who blindly and thoughtlessly did as I was told.
This isn’t what God wants from us. God loves us. He and wants us to return His love. But love isn’t love unless it is free.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as God is for me, I must be for others.
God doesn’t compel me, He woos me. God doesn’t just passively leave room for my freedom, my creativity, He creates the space, the conditions, for me to discover and exercise my freedom and creativity.
And as God has done for me, I must do for you.
To be disciples of Christ means that we help others find true freedom in Christ. This is why compulsion is foreign to the life of the Church. Like God, we must respect each others’ freedom. Anything less is not worthy of the name “Christian” because anything less is contrary to the example of Christ, “Who in glory ascended from us into Heaven” and now sits “at the right hand of God the Father for our salvation”!