People, Look East: Christ Is Always With Us

From where I write, 40 days ago seems as if it were 40 years; so much has happened in the world of CNEWA since Easter morning. Ethnic clashes in the ancient Christian heart of Ethiopia continue to drive out innocent families. COVID-19 marches on, devastating India and indiscriminately attacking the humble and the holy. And now fear and anger in the Holy Land have boiled over, bringing about more violence as bombs and missiles rain upon the innocent, damaging even oases of hope, such as the Rosary Sisters school in Gaza.

So much fear. So much anger. So much evil.

Nevertheless, today we celebrate the feast of the Ascension of the Lord, that moment 40 days after his triumph over death at Easter, when Jesus was glorified and returned to his Father in heaven as “Christ and Lord.”

The Ascension of the Lord is not the tale of Jesus leaving humanity behind, leaving us to fend alone the fear, the anger and the evil that envelopes our world. Rather, it is the story of Jesus returning in glory so that he may send forth the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit:

“But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”

Jn 16:7
artistic depiction of the Ascension from the sixth century.
One of the earliest depictions of the Ascension is this Syriac image from the sixth century, known as the Rabbula Gospels. (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

During the Byzantine liturgy for the feast of the Ascension, an ancient kontakion or hymn is always sung, reminding the assembly that when Christ “had fulfilled the dispensation for our sake, and united earth to heaven, you ascended in glory, O Christ our God, not being parted from those who love you, but remaining with them and crying: ‘I am with you and no one will be against you!’ ”

And so, “People, look East.”

Despite the challenges confronting our sisters and brothers in the faith who remain there — Ethiopian families on the run; clergy and laity together caring for the sick and dying in India; Israeli and Palestinian families hunkered down in basements — they remain not alone if we pray for them and with them; if we together advocate for justice and seek peace; if we stand together in solidarity and give from our hearts what we may. This is what it means to be church, to be members of the Body of Christ witnessing the gospel on Earth.

May we never stop asking the Lord to send his Holy Spirit, to comfort and counsel, to instill wisdom and understanding, and to impart faith and fortitude in a deeply wounded world.

Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the Earth.

Michael J.L. La Civita is CNEWA’s communications director.

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