I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS [MATTHEW 28:16-20]
THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD
As Jesus was about to ascend into heaven He spoke His final words to His disciples: “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20 RSV).
In his study of Matthew’s gospel, Fr. Donald Senior underlines the significance of the “with you” phrase. The beginning of Matthew’s gospel was marked by the revelation that Jesus would be called Emmanuel, that is, God-with-us (Matthew 1:23). This theme of God’s abiding presence in the person of Jesus is now matched at the end of Matthew’s gospel by our Lord’s own promise: “I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
The keynote of Matthew’s gospel, namely God-with-us, explains somewhat why Matthew has no ascension story as such. The evangelists Mark and Luke write specifically that Jesus was taken up to heaven, but not Matthew. Although Matthew sets the scene for the Ascension, he stops short of actually saying that Jesus ascends.
Perhaps this is Matthew’s way of stressing the “staying” of Jesus with us, as opposed to His “going away” to heaven. It may be Matthew’s way of calling attention to our Lord’s new, invisible presence in our midst – a sacramental presence transcending all barriers of time and place, as opposed to his historical, visible presence limited by space and time.
We are dealing here with a paradox, a mystery. In one sense, Jesus has “gone away” by ascending in heaven. But in another sense, he is “still with us” here on earth. Our Lord’s “going away”, His Ascension, is most important to us because it confirms His claim to be God’s own Son; it completes the cycle of Incarnation-Redemption-Glorification; and it gives hope of one day following Him
But equally important to us is our Lord’s “abiding presence”. Whenever we read His word, break His bread, gather to pray in His name, and minister to the least of His brethren, we experience his “being-with-us”, here and now. Whenever we deny ourselves for Him, carry our cross after Him, or suffer persecution because of His name, we know that He is “with us” to support, encourage and inspire us.
In the familiar story entitled “Footprints” a man at the end of his life wanted to know why in tough times there was only one set of footprints in the sand. After all, the Lord had promised to walk with him all the way. The Lord replied by telling him that He never left him in times of trial. When the man saw only one set of footprints, it was then that the Lord carried him. The Lord was with the man walking in the sand. May the risen Lord be with us all the days of our life.
Jakarta, 29 May 2014
A Christian Pilgrim