The Ascension of Christ,
Painted by Hans Süss von Kulmbach (ca.1480–1522),
Oil on panel
Panted in 1513
© Metropolitan Museum, New York
The Ascension of Our Lord
Jesus said to his disciples:
‘You see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.
‘And now I am sending down to you what the Father has promised. Stay in the city then, until you are clothed with the power from on high.’
Then he took them out as far as the outskirts of Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. Now as he blessed them, he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven. They worshipped him and then went back to Jerusalem full of joy; and they were continually in the Temple praising God.
Reflection on the painting
We live in a fast paced world. Cars are getting faster, Amazon deliveries are getting quicker, internet speeds increase… we rush from one place to the next. Nothing new there, we are frequently reminded of this and are well aware of it. If we have to wait for something or someone, we get impatient. Waiting goes against the 21st-century grain: it is seen as something negative.
On this Feast of the Ascension, Jesus tells us that waiting can be a really good thing. Jesus tells his disciples that a time of waiting was necessary before their time of mission. Just before ascending into heaven he tells them ‘Stay in the city then, until you are clothed with the power from on high’. The Lord’s work for sure is urgent, there is no time to waste. Yet Jesus is instructing them to wait until the time is right to start their mission. He asks them to adjust and work according to the Lord’s time, rather than their own. Soon, yes, they would start their mission, but not just yet.
That is what we do here in seminary: we try to adjust ourselves to God’s time and rhythm before we start our mission after being ordained. And we do this waiting in the form of prayer. We tend to think of prayer as asking God for something. That is certainly not an unimportant part of prayer but, more fundamentally, prayer is all about waiting. Sitting in silence with God will shape our attitude of heart, in God’s own time.
On this Feast of the Ascension, the ‘waiting’ aspect resonates particularly strongly this year. On 15th June I, alongside seven other seminarian brothers, will receive the great gift of ordination to the diaconate. All of us are over 40 years old, so we have been ‘waiting’ a long time. But it has been a beautiful waiting. The feast of the Ascension invites us to enter more fully into that prayer of waiting as we prepare ourselves for our ordination as deacons.
Our painting by Hans Süss von Kulmbach focuses completely on the apostles. Only Jesus’ feet and lower legs, engulfed by clouds, appear at the top. He is leaving the pictorial space of our painting. The eleven apostles and Our Lady are left. They now have to wait…. Before starting their mission.
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