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Gradually ascending

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Sermon for Ascension Day

What are graduation ceremonies for?

These days, not only do we graduate from university, but we also graduate from school. Even primary schools are now holding graduation ceremonies. Is it right?


Graduation really means the next step we take. At Mass, we hear the Gradual being sung following the epistle and before the Alleluias for the Gospel. The reason is that the Gradual is sung on the step of the lectern. Graduation is about the next step. At primary school, a child graduates to secondary school. Some secondary school pupils graduate to university. And a university student graduates to… well, to what?

Ah! There’s the rub!

In little graduations, it’s clear where you’re going – to secondary school or, perhaps, to university. That might be scary and life-changing, but at least there is some certainty somewhere to look. It’s that final graduation, from secondary school or university that you realise that graduation has a sharp edge – where are you going now?

A graduation ceremony celebrates the past years and their achievements. All the regalia, the pomp and circumstance, even the bit of paper you get given – all of these are about the past. Your qualifications are all about what you once achieved and not what you’re going to achieve next. They show what you were once capable of but not what you will do next.


It’s the same pattern with the prophet Elisha as he realises that his master Elijah is gone. He is in despair. He tears his clothes and laments because suddenly, after witnessing Elijah’s graduation to heaven, he, too, has graduated to uncertainty. Yet, he is given a link to the past in the mantle he receives from Elijah as he leaves for heaven. That link to the past shows that God has given him the blessings that he gave his servant Elijah and that there is some continuity. Elisha’s discipleship is not nothing – it means a great deal. Elisha’s time as a disciple allows him to take what he has been given and move forward with it.


Likewise, we see the Disciples gazing up into Heaven as Jesus ascends. Our Lord may be ascending, but it is the Disciples who are graduating. They stand in joy and rejoicing despite the Ascension but there is always the moment of “what do we do now?” Our Lord’s teaching is superlative and points the way of living but it is not enough. The do not yet have that link with their discipleship to take away with them into their ministries across the world. Our Lord has not given them anything of his like a mantle to carry with them. Are the Disciples to rely only upon their experience and achievement? If they are, then they are like the rest of us who graduate who rely only upon a piece of paper declaring our exam results to convince others of our capabilities.

If Our Lord’s teaching was enough then the story would end here. There would be no real point to the Crucifixion and Resurrection for us. They would only have happened for the Disciples and their edification. Yet, the Cross and Resurrection are precisely what the world needs to know about. The Cross and Resurrection are as much for us as for the Disciples. Yet we cannot experience either save only as facts of History. There needs to be more to it. If this graduation is to mean anything, we need something real to take away with us into the future to bring that reality to the world.


The Lord graduates into Heaven, but the Disciples have another graduation to go before they are let loose on the world. They will be given something to take with them which connects them with their past discipleship and their life with the Lord. They will be given something on which they can fall back in times of stress and will yet carry them forward in their lives.

We, too, always face an uncertain future however we carry always with us, not just the teaching of Christ but also His continued presence in our lives. We are always connected to safety no matter what this world throws at us or does to us. Our graduation in Christ always comes with an unbreakable link, not just to the past, present and future, but beyond Space and Time. Even with Christ ascended into heaven, we are never alone.

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