A cloud took him

‘We have lift off’. We hear these words as a rocket carrying astronauts takes off for a space shuttle, but it is an unhelpful image for the Ascension of Jesus to heaven! Far better are the actual words of the Acts where we are told ‘a cloud took him from their sight’. 

Clouds have long been used by writers to express the hidden presence of God. When the Israelites journeyed through the desert, ‘Yahweh preceded them in a pillar of cloud’ showing them the way.  And Luke tells us Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus on the mountain about his journey – his ‘passing’ from this world to the Father ‘which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem’, that is, through his passion and death. Luke continues, ‘a cloud came and covered Peter, James and John with shadow; and when they went into the cloud they were afraid. And a voice came from the cloud saying, this is my Son’.

The fourteenth century author of the ‘Cloud of Unknowing’ urges us to hammer away at the cloud until we penetrate it.

Clouds both hide and reveal. They hide the sun and then they clear and its brightness shines through. So the Ascension is a statement about the earthly life of Jesus: the time when the disciples saw, heard and touched him, is over. He is now hidden.  But that does not mean he is no longer present. He is hidden in the Eucharist but he is present. The Ascension basically says to us: he is no longer limited in his presence to Palestine in the first century.  Jesus is now present everywhere to all people at all times. Jean Vanier, whom we buried last month, used to speak of Jesus as if he was in the room.  I remember when I first met him how often he would say, ‘we’ll have to see what Jesus wants’ as though he was going to phone him to find out.

So, paradoxically, Jesus going away is really Jesus coming close. He is present to everyone who wants to welcome him into their life.  The ‘cloud’ is a bit different now. It hides and reveals in another way.  You walk into a prison and see people tattered and shattered and it is as if there is a great cloud hanging over the place.  But Jesus is there in each one of those people, ready to be recognised if we have eyes to see. And if you go into an institution for people living with mental disabilities – or a psychiatric hospital – you may feel the desire to leave as soon as possible.  A sense of revulsion may come over you.  Yet Jesus is there.

And in our ordinary life with all its joys and irritants he is the one who walks with us as he did with the two going to Emmaus.  But maybe it is sometimes hard for us to recognise him.

2 June 2019     The Ascension of Jesus

Acts 1:1-11      Ephesians 1:17-23                   Luke 24:46-53

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