Living in the Paschal Mystery: Leading to Ascension
[This message was given at Kairos: Friday Morning Contemplative Gathering on April 29, 2022]
From Mary Pandiani, Selah Executive Director
Easter has come and gone for many. And yet, looking at the church liturgical calendar, we’re still in Eastertide, namely the 40-days before the Ascension of Christ Jesus takes place. These 40-days and Ascension are part of the story called the Paschal Mystery – a living remembrance of Christ Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, the Ascension (the rising from earth to be with God), that culminates with Pentecost (the unleashing of the Holy Spirit). The connection to the celebration of the Old Testament Passover reminds us of the lamb whose blood protects the Israelites who finally leave Egypt, leading them to freedom from slavery.
We’re called into this Paschal Mystery where we’re connected to the story as well. Our lives operate out of a Paschal Mystery – a life, death, and new life rhythm in the everyday and final death of our lives. That means we’re participating, in intentional and unintentional ways, with the 40-days and Ascension. We, like the disciples and followers of Christ Jesus, don’t quite understand the resurrection, yet want to believe in hope, that it brings changes in us and our relationship with God. The stories include walking the road to Emmaus, eating breakfast with the disciples, doubting and believing with Thomas who wants to see the wounds of Jesus. Confusion, joy, despondency, loss of faith, gaining faith, amazed, hope, and deep longing. These are the mundane and miraculous ways Christ Jesus enters into our world, different but the same, as a result of the resurrection. All of these emotions and new realities occur within the 40-days, inviting us to consider the change that has taken place.
Is that not like how change impacts us, especially the one where there is resurrection – a new power of and in life? We are grateful, excited, yet confused and dazed by the reality before us. We hold hope while wondering what’s next. When my youngest daughter left home for the first time at 13 years old (she decided she wanted to go to a boarding school – ask me about that story sometime), I held promise for her in the new experience, yet deep loss in no longer having her around. I was both faith-filled and faith-less. The liminal space of the unknown, yet newness, felt both awkward and comforting. How was I to enter into this change?
It’s in these places that lead to the Ascension where we ask the question of transformation: what do I need to let go of in order to experience new life to its fullest? Jesus tells the disciples that he must leave; he even goes on to say it will be better that he leaves. In his leaving, he offers something more. Or as Ronald Rolheiser suggests, “Ascension is to refuse to cling to what once was, let it go, and let it bless you, so that you can recognize the new life you already have with and within you and receive its spirit.” There is new life in leaving, as counter-intuitive as that may sound, for that’s where new life begins.
As we live in this season of the Paschal Mystery, let us ask ourselves, what do we need to let go of in order that new life may arise? If we desire change and transformation, how we can move towards it, rather than cower away? Can we receive the spirit of life, revealed in these changes, that brings deeper and more meaningful encounters with God, with others, and with ourselves? Let us consider the invitation that the Ascension is asking of us.
The ascension deepens intimacy by giving us precisely a new presence, a deeper, richer one,
but one which can only come about if our former way of being present is taken away.