How beautifully the inspired Luke concludes his Gospel! The scenario fits so well with the most beloved of all sacred stories, his account of Our Lord's birth. The two are like book ends with the life and death of Jesus in between.
It began with shepherds and kings paying Him homage and ended with the men and women closest to Him receiving His blessing and worshiping Him as He was taken from their sight.
The Pascal Candle which you see in your parish church was first lit on the eve of Easter. In days prior to the Vatican Council, this candle would have been extinguished after the chanting or reading of the Gospel on the Feast of the Ascension. This was done to illustrate how Jesus, after His Ascension, was no longer physically and visibly present. But now we leave it burning in order to underline His promise..."Know that I am with you always...unto the end of time." In both cases we have perfectly valid symbolism...but a difference of emphasis in response to a growing sense that what matters most is not, theologically speaking, how He is present but simply that He is present...fully and effectively and forever. He is not a revered figure of history who lived and died and left us an example and a code of ethics...such men and women who have left their mark are at best, pale shadows of Jesus without whom we are nothing. Nothing because in His humanity is our dignity and in His divinity is our eternity.
All human beings are designed to be seekers of truth and doers of good. To this extent we are creatures in the creator's image. Jesus is the perfect image of the creator. The truth that He teaches is the ultimate truth and the good that he identifies is the ultimate good.
But Jesus is not content with being an expression of Divine truth and an exemplar of Divine goodness. He is not content with being the ultimate teacher because above all, as He so frequently demonstrated, He holds every person in this world close to His heart...as close, that is, as we permit.
The most tangible expression of the depth of that love, an expression which unlike so many others can never be overshadowed by pride and selfishness, is that which we are continually called to celebrate...The Eucharist. The mutual celebration of that unique flesh and blood relationship which relates Him to us and us to each other.
Life may not be easy but nor is it hopeless. The last time Jesus saw His closest associates He told them how things would work in the future. He spoke to them as the Resurrected Messiah, a being to be worshipped. But not as a distant Deity. He would always be there for them. Nothing would or could change that. That bond of love between the Father and the Son, a bond of love personified in the Holy Spirit, would become the driving force, the soul, of His community whose head He would remain and whose members they would become.
Then He told them to go back to Jerusalem and wait! Strange! Why not give them the Spirit right then and there as He was leaving them? I don't know but it occurs to me that God simply works that way. Periods of darkness. Desert-like stretches during which one feels forgotten if not abandoned. Perhaps because it is best for us to experience apparent darkness in order to appreciate the light.
"Lord, without you we are nothing." You are Truth, Goodness, Relative and Friend. Without you the world is devoid of meaning and life is but a game of chance. "Lord, without you we are nothing."