Forty days after Easter, Christians commemorate the ascension of Jesus into heaven. There are two things being commemorated, the first of which is loss. After Jesus’ crucifixion, He is with the disciples no more and they hide in fear and mourning. We can’t forget that the disciples were human, subject to all human feelings. Then after the resurrection, Jesus again appears to them. You can imagine them, despite Jesus’ warnings that he is not there permanently, still thinking that he will be, this man whom they followed and loved, whom they thought they’d never see again. Comforted by his presence and his reassuring words, now he is leaving them again.

To acknowledge the apostles’ loss is a necessary part of the feast. It doesn’t, however, leave us there, just as it didn’t leave them. In the Acts of the Apostles, in answer to the apostles’ idea of Jesus restoring the kingdom of Israel, he says: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come to you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After he ascends into heaven, the two men in white console them further: “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

From the Acts of the Apostles we learn how they dealt with their loss. They went back to the place in Jerusalem where they were staying and, it says, “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer.” At Pentecost, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” Then they go out as Jesus had told them to and they preach to all nations. They are no longer occupied with loss. They have the joy of Christ’s message to share with the whole world.

Both parts of this feast, the loss and the joy, speak to us. First, we can relate to the feeling of loss. We have all known it so many times in our lives, and it is never easy. If we think about it, much of life is loss. As we grow, we lose what we had in order to have what the next stage of life demands of us. There are those other painful, unexpected losses, like the loss of health, or of a loved one, or something else we thought we’d always have.

Throughout life, we have to deal with loss, but much depends on how we do this. So often we can be stymied by it, not want to accept it, even try to fight against it. As Christians following Christ, however, we have another way. Like the apostles, we can pray and then go on, because we have Jesus’ word that there is something greater than loss, and his assurance that he is always with us. Through our lives, we can preach his gospel, loving and serving our neighbors. We are assured by what he told his apostles, and we know he meant it for all his followers: “I will not leave you orphans.”

We know that, in the end, life is not about loss, but about eternal gain. Perhaps St. Peter’s words in the first chapter of his letter say just what we should remember as we strive to face life and loss in the way Jesus would have us do it. “So you rejoice even if you suffer now. Your faith is proved more precious than gold.” This is the message of joy we hold as we celebrate the Lord’s glorious ascension. We have everything to gain.

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