"I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.” -John 17:6-19 (This is the middle third of John 17, the “High Priestly Prayer”)
But now...he is right in our midst, right here where we are, and not beside us, not merely next to us. “Behold, I am with you all days!” - Karl Rahner
In a way, Jesus’ abandonment of the disciples upon the Mount of Olives is more profound than their abandonment on Calvary. As grievous as it was, the crucifixion was no surprise. The disciples themselves predicted he would die. “Let us go and die with him” says a resigned Thomas when Jesus chooses to risk going to Judea to console his friends in Bethany. But no one foresaw the Resurrection and the extraordinary forty days during which Jesus dwelled again with his friends. Imagine their despair when Jesus entered the Cloud. “If I do not go, the Comforter will not come.” Again, imagination fails. The loss incomprehensible. (The disciples do not yet know what Jesus means by “the Comforter” “the Spirit of Truth” “the Holy Spirit.”)
The Church blessedly gives us ten days to practice dwelling in the ambiguous time of the Resurrected Christ vanished, and the Holy Spirit not yet come. In the mystical life, Ascensiontide is the Dark Night of the Soul, the anguished sense of abandonment after a period of union. The soul can not cling even to this union. The last threads of attachment must be broken in the darkness of unknowing before the completion of the Christian transformation – being “sent” into the world as bearers of Love.
But the mystics testify to a stunning paradox. The abandonment IS the union. It is in the Dark Night of the Soul that Lover meets Beloved and transforming union takes place.
Have a most blessed, intimate Ascensiontide! -Suzanne
Meditation One Wounded by love
Of this inward demand and this invitation, and also because the creature lifts itself up and offers itself, and all that it can do, and yet can neither attain nor acquire the unity - of these things spring a ghostly pain. When the inmost part of the heart and the source of life have been wounded by love, and one cannot obtain that which one desires above all things, but must ever abide where one does not wish to be: from these two things pain comes forth. Here Christ is risen to the zenith of the conscience, and He sends His Divine rays into the hungry desires and into the longings of the heart; and this splendour burns and dries up and consumes all the moisture, that is, the strength and the powers of nature. The desire of the open heart, and the shining of the Divine rays, cause a perpetual pain. -John Ruysbroeck c.1220-c.1293 The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage Chapter XXIII
Miscellany 1 The Promise
Alleluia! Not as orphans are we left in sorrow now; Alleluia! He is near us, faith believes, nor questions how: though the cloud from sight received him, when the forty days were o’er, shall our hearts forget his promise, “I am with you evermore”?
William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898) Second verse of hymn 'Alleluia! Sing to Jesus'
… this Spirit is already in us now. He is in us as the basis of the nearness of eternal contemplation, as the basis of the transfiguration of the flesh. We notice nothing of this, and that is shy the ascension seems to be separation. But it is separation only for our paltry consciousness. We must will to believe in such a nearness - in the Holy Spirit.
The ascension is the universal event of salvation history that must recur in each individual, in our personal salvation history through grace. When we become poor, then we become rich. When the lights of the world grow dark, then we are bathed in light. When we are apparently estranged from the nearness of his earthly flesh, then we are the more united with him. When we think we feel only a waste and emptiness of the heart, when all the joy of celebrating appears to be only official fuss, because the real truth around us cannot yet be admitted, then we are in truth better prepared for the feast of the Ascension than we might suppose.
He takes on our semblance only to give us his own reality - the eternal, inexpressible reality that he received from the Father, that he gives us in his Spirit, and that we can receive because he, returning home with all this is ours, made it possible for us to share in God's own life.
-Karl Rahner 1904-1984 The Great Church Year: The Best of Karl Rahner's Homilies, Sermons, and Meditations
Russian, 18th Century
Rabbula Gospel, Antiochan Tradition, 500's
The mandorla, a circle within circles, lit from within or of a dark unknowing (below), evokes in two dimensions the mystery of multi-dimensions. On the left, Jesus enters the sphere of God in a mandorla of cloud. Above, firey seraphim wings with eyes surround the Great Entrance. Both fire and cloud symbolize the Presence of God.
Ascension Dome, Italian Mosaic Artist, 1150-1200, San Marco, Venice
Meditation Two The Dark Night
Bride Searches for Her Beloved
The Bride Finds Her Beloved
The Beloved Crowns His Bride
Scenes from the Song of Songs, Hesdin of Amiens, c 1450-55
The Dark Night
One dark night,Fired with love’s urgent longings -Ah, the sheer grace!- I went out unseen, My house being now all stilled;
In darkness, and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised, -Ah, the sheer grace!- In darkness and concealment, My house being now all stilled;
On that glad night, In secret, for no one saw me, Nor did I look at anything, With no other light or guide Than the one that burned in my heart;
This guided me More surely than the light of To where He waited for me -Him I knew so well- In a place where no one else appeared.
O guiding night! O night more lovely than the dawn! O night that has united The Lover with His beloved, Transforming the beloved in her Lover.
Upon my flowering breast Which I kept wholly for Him alone, There He lay sleeping, And I caressing Him There in a breeze from the fanning cedars.
When the breeze blew from the turret Parting His hair,He wounded my neck With his gentle hand, Suspending all my senses.
I abandoned and forgot myself, Laying my face on my Beloved; All things ceased; I went out from myself, Leaving my cares Forgotten among the lilies.
-John of the Cross 1542-1591 The Dark Night trans. Kieran Kavanaugh OCD & Otilio Rodriguez OCD
The Last Word
And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee.Holy One, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.
What if you had just become accustomed to seeing the resurrected Jesus among your friends? And now, the Cloud has taken him, suddenly. And there you are, alone, looking up into the sky.
The church observes a time of waiting, an unknowing, a desolate expectation of “I-know-not-what” (John of the Cross). Like it's analogue, the dark night of the soul, Ascensiontide unfolds as a paradoxical state of perceived abandonment and unitive fulfillment. And like the dark night of the soul, Ascension yields the most profound fruitfulness of the interior life. Indeed these ten days offer a true 'dazzling darkness' of numinous Presence in absence.
In this liminal time between Jesus entering the Cloud, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, the church contemplates the High Priestly Prayer (John, chapter 17). The lectionary divides the prayer in three parts for years A,B, and C.
Jesus prays for himself, for the disciples, and for the church to come in future generations. He prays for the unity of the disciples;“Keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (vs.11). He prays for union amongst future followers; “I do not pray for these (the disciples) only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, I and I in thee.” (vs.20-21a). He prays for humanity's overall union in love with God through him;“I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (vs.26). Bruno Barnhart calls the High Priestly Prayer, “The Prayer of Consecration of the New Temple.” (The Good Wine: Reading John from the Center)
Word Made Flesh becomes Flesh Made Word. Christ ascends not far away beyond clouds, but into the heart of hearts to manifest within every heart. The enthronement of Jesus takes place in deep union within us.
But the soul cannot perceive this at first. The mystics of the church testify to a stunning paradox. The abandonment IS the union. It is in the Dark Night of the Soul that Lover meets Beloved and transforming union takes place. A hidden union so intimate, perception fails for a time. But like the seasons of the soul that precede this one, a slow appropriation takes place. The inner eye adjusts to the light blazing behind the darkness. The light comes from within.
The with church we sing, “ Come, mine elect one: and I will set my throne within you.*”
May we all be one within this glorious and hidden union.
*Antiphon at Lauds, Saints Days
detail, Ascension Dome (above)
Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into heaven, so we may also in heart and mind there ascend, and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.