Sometimes our liturgical calendar seems to dovetail with the events happening around us. Sometimes, the contrast between the feast and seasonal days in our calendar and what’s actually happening in our world can jar and unnerve us. That is the case this week. Today is Ascension Day, a day when we celebrate Jesus triumphantly ascending into heaven to rejoin his Father after conquering death. But Tuesday of this week could be called Descension Day, when 19 children and two teachers were senselessly killed in Uvalde, Texas. We are all still reeling, and it’s hard for us to picture any type of ascension in the midst of utter sadness and horror.
We are left wondering, has Jesus ascended and abandoned us? Far from it. Jesus’s ascension gives him a bird’s eye view to see the whole world, especially its suffering and sorrow. From his perch, he cannot help but weep.
The theologian N. T. Wright puts it this way: “Jesus has gone ahead of us into God’s space, God’s new world, and is both already ruling the present world as its rightful Lord and also interceding for us at the Father’s right hand. Only, when we grasp and celebrate what the ascension tells us about the continuing human work of Jesus in the present, are we equipped for the task of justice.”
I must confess that my first draft of this post was entitled “21 Angels.” Last evening, a parishioner reminded me that a 22nd person died in the shooting, the gunman himself. It is hard for me to see him as an angel right now. But if I can ascend enough to see him through the eyes of God, I get closer to the words from the Prayer for our Enemies in the Book of Common Prayer: “Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you.”
Jesus is now joined by these angels. Their innocence, their hopes, and their love live on forever. They join him in lifting us all up beyond a cruel world of assault weapons and hate and imagining a world filled with peace and building one another up, overflowing with deep care for the fragile lives of everyone around us. Our task is to join Jesus and these precious angels in lifting our world up to be a place where children and teachers are safe, where love triumphs over hate, and where heaven and earth are, at long last, one.