The transfiguration of Jesus already spoke of the glory of Jesus; in this story, the showing of Jesus’ glory (we recall that glory is a characteristic of kingship) means to underline what in the hours of Jesus’ trial and death seemed an impossible outcome of crucifixion. To put his death in proper focus, Jesus will say after resurrection, was it not necessary that the Messiah suffer and enter into his glory? Glory then is, if one understands rightly Jesus’ life of fidelity, even in terrible suffering, an expected conclusion to the crucifixion. Glory is the final outcome, the final word; for him there will be no more suffering. Indeed, terrible though the suffering of his life could be (and was), such pain was, upon reflection, transitory in relation to, only a step to his eternity spent in glory.
Jesus’ glory, which the Ascension means to accentuate, is a desired value for all human beings. Glory is wonderful, and includes life (no more death) and complete happiness in the most possible form. But ‘glory’ particularly points our attention not to it, but to the reason for it – for glory. Ordinarily in ancient times glory was based on wealth, and talent and beauty; there must be some reason or quality for glory, for the fullness of life it represents. In Jesus’ case, the reason he will be glorified is in a word, love. It is that intense devotion to and admiration of his Father, heart and soul and mind and strength, which leads to doing – that is what we are to see in the glorification of Jesus, and this leads to a final word.
Luke’s Gospel and Acts, which talk directly about the Ascension, understand that there was no completion of love of Father and Son until they were one forever. Thus, though resurrection has its marvellous lessons and values (a belief to live and die for), the coming to life remains, if not empty, at least unsatisfying – until one is with the one he loves, and forever. Then one will know fully ‘what it was s all about’. And one will for all eternity appreciate the words, “How good it is to be back, to be with you!”
But like the resurrection, the ascension became not just a personal joy, but a public statement; neither was done in secret, but quite openly. Why? Because their recounting is meant to show our end, the true end and not a false understanding because of suffering or a forgetfulness because we are so long away from our Love.
John Kilgallen, SJ