Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
- Matthew 28:16-20
Happy Ascension Day! Today marks the church’s observance of the end of the 40-day period between Jesus’ Easter resurrection and his ascension into heaven. During this time, Jesus walked the earth among his followers, continually teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven and promising the coming presence of the Holy Spirit. On his final day, Jesus gave last instructions to his disciples that they should stay near Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Father. After he was finished, Acts 1:9 states “And when he had said these things, while they looked on, he was raised up: and a cloud received him out of their sight.” In that moment, Jesus’ work on earth was ended. His ascension into heaven is where he continues to prepare a place in heaven for all his followers….”to the end of the age.”
I’m struck by two thoughts. First, why isn’t the Ascension as important as Easter or Christmas in the Christian celebration tradition? Why is the Resurrection a more reverent occasion than the Ascension? To Jesus’ followers, both events had to have been equally startling. My complete bewilderment over this question assures me there is likely a good answer; I just don’t know it now, but I’ll let it go, because my second thought here is the one that really arrests me. It’s that line in Matthew when Jesus promises to be with us “to the end of the age.”
When is that? Why is that? What age, exactly? Are we dealing here with simple, unending, earthly time that one moment, Jesus said, will actually end? What if that happens tonight around 6 PM? Or a week from tomorrow at precisely noon? The wonder I feel about “the end of the age” is too dense to describe easily: it mystifies, bewilders and baffles me. Is it the end of my age, my death, or everyone’s age, at each one’s death – or is it just the end all at once, period? One great “poof?” Time, like the concept of space, is a pretty intricate idea, yet thinking about time’s end moves any comprehension of it from the intricate to the obscure. I wonder if any of the disciples had a flash of thought over what Jesus meant by “to the end of the age” – I suspect they were all too engrossed on the moment of ascension and the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit in 10 more days (the Pentecost) to consider what it meant exactly. But it’s been 2,000 years now – are we really no further along in our understanding?
Possibly, I’m no more enlightened than a ga-jillion other Scripture readers to understand just what Jesus meant by this final statement. Or perhaps for most people, it’s uncomplicated, or unconcerning, so it doesn’t even matter that much. For me, “the end of the age” is such a daunting, formidable phrase – so open-ended, uncertain, speculative and rousing of both mind and faith. So here I am again in this familiar space: learning and searching in my faith and understanding, while accepting that I am only occasionally settling anything. That’s all. I accept that. And God, like you gave those disciples at the Ascension, thank you for giving me my time and the spirit to keep asking and trying.
Oh God of all time and space, thank you for giving us the miracle of life and the knowledge that like your son, Jesus, we will return to you at the end of the age. Amen.