The Lord Jesus, whilst appearing as the Risen One to the disciples, gives them an invitation in the form of a clear directive: “do not depart from Jerusalem”. He also makes them a promise: “in a few days you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit”.
So, my dear sisters and brothers, we too, even today, by listening to the Word of God, are addressed by the Lord with that same invitation: “Do not go far from Jerusalem”: that is, do not distance yourselves from the Mystery that you contemplated and celebrated at Easter. Do not pass over superficially and hastily the events of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
Immersed in the lifestyle of the world, we seem always to be in a hurry and oftentimes in pursuit of deceptive novelties, hungry for things that immediately saturate the desire for fullness and perceived truths, and yet by that same lifestyle we risk trivializing the fundamental events of our life of faith, reducing them to fleeting emotional experiences.
The relationship with our Lord cannot be reduced to leafing through the pages of the calendar, in an obvious succession of things to do.
“Staying in Jerusalem” means choosing to dwell in the Heart of Jesus; allowing ourselves to be educated by His sweet and merciful presence, learning from His gestures and His living words, for in the Father we see the quality of His Love and the beauty of the salvation He has given us; making us docile to the action of the Holy Spirit so that a profound conversion may envelop us, until we reach the point of being configured completely in Jesus.
This is the content of the extraordinary prayer wherewith Saint Paul exhorts the Christians of Ephesus and that, today, the Church continually renews for us:
... that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power (Eph 1:17-19).
To remain in Jerusalem and to remain grafted onto Jesus, the true vine (cf. Jn 15), is a guarantee of participation in His destiny of glory, it is to enjoy the certainty that our life is now hidden with Christ in God (cf. Col 3:3). In fact, in the Son who ascended into heaven today means that our humanity is also lifted up to be beside the Father, and we as members of His body, live in the hope of reaching Christ, our head, in glory (cf. Preface of the Ascension).
“To remain” in Gospel language is not a static verb, but refers to a dynamic of ever growing and leading to a deeper communion between Jesus and His disciple, between Jesus and His Church.
“... in a few days, you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit”.
The decision to remain in Jerusalem is the indispensable premise to be reached by the powerful and gentle action of the Holy Spirit: It is the Holy Spirit who immerses us through baptism into the divine life, who generates profound communion with the Most Holy Trinity, who configures us to be like Christ Jesus.
It is the Holy Spirit who brings Jesus’ work to completion, impressing upon us the seal of the paschal events, purifying us from our sins and transforming us into children and heirs of the Father.
Inhabited by the Holy Spirit and moved by His sanctifying grace, the Church in her mission must reach out to all the peoples of the earth, so that each and every one may have a share in the same communion and the same joy of belonging to the one Lord and Saviour.
By contemplating the mystery of the Ascension, we are made participants in the dialogical and generative tension between the different poles that characterize Christian identity: citizens of Heaven, and yet at the same time we are called to live in the events of history of this world; but with our eyes fixed on the Mystery of God. We pass through the unfathomable events of the human heart; without departing from heavenly Jerusalem. So let us commit ourselves to reaching out to every person, in every corner of the earth, announcing the joy of the Paschal triumph of our Lord Jesus Christ. Pope Francis affirmed this during his Regina Cœli message in May 2021 with the following words: “His Ascension is not an abandonment,” because Jesus “remains forever with the disciples, with us” in prayer. Jesus shows the Father His wounds “with which He redeemed us,” — and this, the Pope said, “should give us security, and even joy, great joy!”
Finally allow me to conclude with the wonderful and uplifting words of the hymn written by Charles Wesley who seems to capture perfectly this glorious theme of the joy of the Ascension. May these words become our prayer:
Hail the day that sees Him rise
To His throne beyond the skies;
Christ, the Lamb for sinners given,
Enters now the highest heaven!
There for Him high triumph waits
Lift your heads, eternal gates;
He has conquered death and sin;
Take the King of glory in.
Highest heaven its Lord receives;
Yet He loves the earth He leaves;
Though returning to His throne,
Still He calls the world His own
See! He lifts His hands above.
See! He shows the wounds of love.
Hark! His gracious lips bestow,
Blessings on His Church below
Lord, though parted from our sight
Far beyond the starry height,
Lift our hearts that we may rise
One with You beyond the skies:
There with You we shall remain,
Share the glory of Your reign,
There Your face unclouded view,
Find our heaven of heavens in You.
* Custody of the Holy Land
By Fr Luke Gregory ofm*