May 2020

“Do not hold[*] on to me . . . I am ascending”

John 20.17 (NIV) 

The words are spoken by Jesus to Mary Magdalene outside the empty tomb. In an ecstatic moment of recognition she gets down before the Lord and clasps him round the knees. Prepare your heart and mind for contemplation of this Saying by picturing the scene, also by reading and pondering carefully over the whole of verse 17. Then put aside your personal reflections and let the words speak to you silence.

I find that they have hidden depths. The story of the Ascension of Jesus Christ as told in the first chapter of Acts can carry no meaning in any literal sense. But it is of enormous significance in spiritual/theological understanding. The dying and rising of Jesus turns the fall of Adam (humankind) on its head. The return to the Father (“my God and your God”) is the consummation of the story of salvation as told in the Gospels. The Ascension makes the Gospels authentic. Without the Ascension the Gospels are little more than a collection of tales and lessons.

So we are told not to “cling” on to the earthly aspect of Jesus, nor indeed to the earthly things of life. We are being invited to share in the upward movement, away from the lower (fallen) order of creation and towards the glory of God which is to be revealed. St Paul sees this very clearly. He writes: “When it says, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things” (Ephesians 4.9-10).

“I am ascending . . .” The Ascension is not a one-off event but a process. Like Mary Magdalene we are entrusted with that mystery in order to make it known as best we may. Use the Saying in intercession for people who have “fallen” into despondency, despair or degradation.

[*] The Greek word carries the sense of clinging on to something