Sophie de Villeneuve: The Ascension is reported by the Acts of the Apostles (1, 6-11), which tell us that a cloud came to hide Jesus from the sight of his disciples. How to understand this passage? Did Jesus fly to heaven, as the iconography shows?
G. B. : The “cloud” is a word rich in meaning. In Exodus, for example, the cloud, which also appears as a pillar of fire, accompanies the Hebrew people in the desert. These images send us back to the mystery of the presence of God, a God who is close and different, who veils himself by revealing himself…
In any phenomenon of apparition, Marian apparitions for example, things appear to the seers which correspond to their culture and their imagination. But what is the relationship between what they see and physical reality? It’s hard, if not impossible, to say. One can wonder if the Ascension is a historical moment. Faith does not engage a precise answer, but why not? Luke’s account transmits the memory of a significant experience for the Eleven, even if the other evangelists speak only of the end of the apparitions.
So what happened was the end of Jesus’ appearances to his apostles after his resurrection? He disappears from their sight?
G. B. : According to the Gospels, the apostles understood that Jesus was resurrected because Jesus appeared to them several times, during a privileged period. This period ended even before Pentecost. The Ascension, before transmitting the memory of an event, refers to a mystery of faith. This is what the “cloud” teaches us.
Acts also says that the disciples look up to heaven, wondering where Jesus is… What does that say to our faith?
G. B. : This teaches us, as the angels who then appear to the disciples say, that Jesus will return. The “cloud” is what envelops, but it is also a vehicle, that of God or of the Son of man in the Old Testament. Jesus left in the cloud, but he will return as he left. This places us after the event of the resurrection, in the time of the Church when it is given to us to experience Jesus in a completely different way from the disciples before his Passion, and awaiting a face-to-face relationship. -cope with him.
The disciples also think that he will come back very soon…
G. B. : It is true that they expect an imminent coming of Christ, it is still very clear in the first letters of Saint Paul. Then we see that, little by little, they get used to the idea that things will last, the time that the lordship of Jesus extends to all Creation. The disciples gradually understood that the parousia was not imminent but that they had to wait for it.
How to live this feast of the Ascension today, when we have not known Christ?
G. B. : Peter writes in his first epistle: “You believe without having seen him, and in believing you rejoice with joy” (1 P 1, 8). The Ascension is a glorious mystery in the Rosary, but it is first of all a mystery of joy, which teaches us that our humanity has entered into the glory of God.
God’s plan is accomplished in Jesus. From now on, our gaze is turned towards things from above. These things already dwell in us with the presence of Christ in our lives. The resurrection is not the return of Jesus to the life he had before his death, it is the entry into the glory of God. He prepares the way for us. The Ascension, for us, is a bit of the sky opening up and attracting us. We must celebrate the Ascension in joy, not in melancholy.
La Diège, 12th century polychrome statue, St-Martin church, Jouy-en-Josas (78). /GFreilhalter-Wikipedia
Are we also promised to this ascent? Will heaven open for us when we die?
G. B. : We hope. It is also a matter of grace and freedom. The destiny that the Lord has imagined for us is not imposed on us, our freedom is committed to it. This is why we live it under the regime of hope: death will be for us a passage which will lead us to Christ, to the Father, in the happiness which is his. You can see in the church of St-Martin in Jouy-en-Josas (78) a Virgin and Child from the 12th century which clearly shows an Ascension. The infant Jesus, standing, has his feet supported by angels, he blesses us, and the Virgin points her index finger upwards. She reminds us that Jesus opens a path for us that goes to the Father, that it is our destiny and that it is only there that we will find our fullness.