by Father Mark Goldasich
Some images just stick in your mind.
This time of year I can’t help but return to the story — told by Jesuit Father Richard Leonard in his book, “Preaching to the Converted” — of a fourth-grade teacher who asked her students to draw a picture of the ascension of Jesus into heaven.
The kids immediately set to work. Most did the traditional picture of the disciples gathered together with their necks craned heavenward as Jesus floats away on a cloud.
However, one talented art student named David drew Jesus in some silvery garb, with flames coming out of his feet. When asked to explain his masterpiece, the boy stood on his chair and held his drawing with both hands in front of him. Then he began:
“T minus 10 . . . 9 . . . Ignition sequence starts…6…5…4…3… 2. . . 1 . . . zero! All engines running . . .
“Liftoff! We have a lift off!”
At that point, complete with rocket sound effects, David began to slowly move his picture of Jesus skyward. Only then did the teacher notice that carefully printed along the side of Jesus’ garment were the letters NASA.
With a triumphant smile, David concluded, “The ascension must have been a real blast!”
This coming Sunday we’ll hear that ascension story from the Acts of the Apostles (1:1-11). As the cloud takes Jesus from their sight, the disciples keep “looking intently at the sky.” It’s a natural response: Not only do they want to figure out what has just happened, they also appear gripped by a fear of being abandoned.
A lot of people today can relate to the disciples’ dilemma. God seems to have left us to fend for ourselves.
Perhaps the only “ascension” that many feel comes in the form of rising gas prices, rising food bills and rising postal rates. It seems like so much in our world — and maybe even in our families or our parishes — is broken. And we’re not quite sure how to fix things…or even if we can.
So, has God abandoned us? Maybe this little story can help clarify matters.
Once three wise men were given the task of hiding God so well that no one would ever find him again.
The first wise man proposed that God be hidden on the farthest star. But the other two feared that one day, rocket ships would reach that star and God would be discovered.
Wise man number two suggested putting God at the bottom of the deepest ocean. The other two disagreed, saying that they could foresee a day when food would be grown on the ocean’s floor to feed the world, and then God would be found.
“The only place we can hide God so that no one will ever find him again is inside each person,” concluded the third wise man. “Certainly, no one will discover God there!” (Adapted from “The Sower’s Seeds” by Brian Cavanaugh, TOR.)
Where should we look for Jesus? Start within our own hearts.
Usually when we look there, we only see our sins, limitations and weaknesses. But Jesus invites us to remember and believe the reassuring words he spoke to us: that he would not leave us orphans and that he’s preparing a place for us and will return to take us home.
In the meantime, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have work to do — namely, being Jesus’ witnesses to the world. We do that whenever we bring comfort to the hurting, light to those in darkness, hope to the despairing, justice to the wronged, strength to the weak, and peace to the conflicted.
AswecelebratetheAscension,let’s make our primary goal the “lifting up” of others. Each day this coming week, look for ways to help those around us: Give someone a ride to church or to the doctor; run errands for an elderly person; take a “neglected” friend to lunch; drop off a donation at a charitable organization; drop someone’s newspaper on their doorstep.
Let’s remember that young artist David and his “space shuttle Jesus” and end this Easter season of 2008, not with a whimper, but with a real blast.