Why are you men looking into the sky? (Acts 1:11)
[Words spoken by the men in white who spoke to the Apostles].
Just as the apostles gazed into the sky, with astonishment and amazement, so It is difficult for us to picture the Ascension of Our Lord into heaven.
In art, the Ascension is often pictured - a little oddly - by the sight of a couple of feet just visible, poking out of the bottom of a cloud. Sometimes, perhaps slightly better, it is shown as Jesus floating in the air - levitating in front of the apostles.
To the modern mind it is difficult to imagine, it seems like a magic trick, or like something out of Dr Who or Star Trek.
But perhaps the trouble with understanding the Ascension is that we think it is about the absence of Jesus - not his presence.
There’s good reason why we should think of it as explaining his absence. After all, he prepared his disciples for his departure. Rather enigmatically, he told them, You will see me, then you won’t see me. He told them that he was leaving them. The Gospels tell us he was taken from their sight, that he disappeared into the cloud, that he was carried up into heaven. It seems that the Ascension is the end of that time of appearances and physical presences of Christ. Now these 40 days are concluded, he is taken away, to be seen no more.
But if we remain only with this image, this idea, we entirely miss the point.
There are other things that Jesus says.
I will not leave you without comfort, he says.
I will be with you always, even till the end of time.
Where two or three are gathered together, I am in the midst of them.
This is my body, this is my blood, do this to remember - recall - me.
Before the Ascension, Christ was present in just one place, now he is present in every place.
In his earthly life, he sat and eat with his disciples by the lakeside, now we receive his body and blood, the bread of life, in every country, in every city of the world.
He walked the dusty paths of Palestine, yet now he strides through every land, borne by his Church.
He dwelt in one man and one place, yet now he dwells in every person who has been baptised into his life.
He healed a few of the sick, yet now he blesses millions of the sick through the sacrament of anointing.
He taught the crowds in the market place, from the boat, and on the hillside, yet now his words are read from every Church and chapel and pulpit.
He prayed in solitude on the Mount of Olives, yet now he prays in every believer.
In his body suffered for us on the cross, yet now we receive his risen and mystical body and blood in the Mass.
He showed love and compassion to the weak and vulnerable, yet now his people bring that compassion to every community of the world, caring for the hungry, the distressed, the victims of hatred and terrorism.
Now - we do not need to gaze up into the sky, like the apostles did: he dwells with us, he lives in us, and is not absent - but among us for ever.