Last night during Holy Communion, it hit me what a bittersweet celebration is the Feast of Ascension.
Yes, the Ascension of our Lord into Heaven to take the throne and to intercede for us is glorious and comforting. Certainly, his departure and ascension is for our good as he said. (John 16:7)
But still, he is not visibly with us. And the church yearns to be with him. Yes, he is always with us. But it is not the same as seeing him there beside us as the disciples did during the 40 days after his resurrection. We miss him, one might say.
That departure is symbolized by the Paschal Candle. Back at the beginning of the Easter Vigil comes one of the most dramatic moments of the liturgical year when the lit candle is carried into a darkened sanctuary with the chant “The Light of Christ!”. (I’ve been fortunate to get to carry out that task the past two years.) The candle stays lit during the 40 days (or theoretically so. Like most parishes we keep it lit as long as possible when the church doors are open so as to give the illusion of it being continually lit.).
And, yes, as you can tell, the Paschal Candle is a comfort and reminder to me of his presence and his ever living for us.
But then during or immediately after the Gospel on Ascension Day, in which Jesus is “parted from” the disciples, the Candle is extinguished. This year I did that, too. (Note that we do not keep it lit until Pentecost.)
And it is bittersweet indeed. I found myself both joyful but quite subdued during Holy Communion last night. I guess it is one of those Anglican things – he’s with us, but he’s not with us.
And we, his church, do miss him.