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May 28, 2017: The Ascension of the Lord

“A Galactic Gathering” Photo Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA. Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt (Geckzilla).

The eleven disciples went to Galilee,
to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.
When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
Then Jesus approached and said to them,
“All power 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,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)


The truth is I have always had a problem with the Ascension, which didn’t make much sense to me as a child. Mostly I blame Dr. Newton Branaman, my college science teacher. One day he sketched out how humans have understood “the world.” The first diagram was a plate covered by an upside-down bowl. This is how we experience the everyday world: the earth seems flat with a dome of sky overhead. Next were the earth-centered and sun-centered models, with planets circling around and stars beyond. The early 20th century image of the whole universe was the Milky Way galaxy, shaped like a fried egg made up of billions of stars, with our small sun far out in the egg white. Then came new views from the first Big Telescopes of the 1920’s. Smudges thought to be stars on the edge of the Milky Way were whole galaxies very far away. Our jaws dropped in astonishment as he ended: “As far as we can see in every direction, there are more and more galaxies, composed of myriad stars, all at distances we can’t comprehend.”

After that, I could no longer think in terms of UP or DOWN; there is no up or down in the universe. So I struggled with various descriptions of the Risen Jesus leaving the earth for some other place. Happily, today’s Gospel does not focus on the details of leave-taking, but on the mission Jesus gives: “Go … make disciples … baptize … teach … I am with you.” Further, Jesus shares this responsibility even with those who have doubts and questions.

Today, images from the Hubble space telescope astonish me just as Dr. Branaman’s chalk sketches did so many years ago. I have come to understand that we live within our own culture, time and place, with images and models that differ from those of people at the time of Jesus. Even with a different framework, we are still in awe at the designs of creation; what we know seems nothing compared with all that remains unknown.


There is still work to be done! I will consider this week what mission has been given to me. In what larger missions do I share? In what ways am I called to new understandings of the church, the world and its people, and the universe? I live with confidence that Jesus is really with us now and until the end of time.

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Alice Quinlan

Alice Quinlan is a retired educator who lives in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Village and volunteers at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

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