The ascension of Jesus. Putting it in the context of the times, it was no doubt an incredible day. His resurrection from the dead 40 days prior was still a fresh memory. His crucifixion burned into their memories. The 12 apostles must have been still reeling. Frantically searching for a meaning to it all, and wondering how they were supposed to keep this who movement of the Catholic faith going.
In the Book of Mark, Chapter 16, verses 9-20 it recounts the following: "...Jesus appeared first to Mary of Magdala. She went and carried the news to his mourning and sorrowful followers, but when she told them that he was alive they did not believe her. Later he appeared to two of the disciples as they were walking into the countryside. They also went and took the news to the others, but again they did not believe that the Lord was alive. Then, when the eleven disciples were at the table. He appeared to them and reproached them because they had not believed those who had seen him after he was raised from the dead. Then he said to them: 'Go forth to every part of the world, and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. Those who believe it and receive baptism will find salvation; those who do not believe will be condemned, Faith will bring with it these miracles: believers will cast out devils in my name an speak in strange tongues; if they handle snakes or drink any deadly poison, they will come to no harm; and the sick on whom they lay their hands will recover.'
The ascension capped it for them. They saw the ascension on Mount Olive with their own eyes. Saw Jesus rise up before them and lose himself among the clouds and into heaven. But as heady as the ascension must have been, it was the "return" that the Apostles were waiting for.
The Book of Acts, Chapter One recounts: "...So when the Apostles met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"
Jesus said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth..."
OK then! He's coming back! But we don't know when! In the meantime, we'll celebrate the ascension with ascension day. And we've been recognizing ascension day for the last 2005 years! If that is not a sign of faith, I don't know what is!
Ascension day isn't just the last recorded appearance of Jesus to his Apostles/disciples. It is a wake-up call of sorts that he is going to be coming back. And that in the meantime he was counting on his disciples - I almost want to use the term "ordering his disciples" to continue to carry out his work. The ascension of the Son of God is also symbolic of Jesus being reunited with his Father. After his ascension, Jesus was able to finally be seated in the place of honor - at the right hand of God. A place which confirmed not only his importance, but also his authority. Jesus may have been gone physically, but the impact of his presence remained long after his ascension.
So too does the presence of Jesus remain in his followers to this day. Believers the world over honor Jesus' ascension on ascension day, but the patient wait for his return is the motivation for many to keep going.