Unlike those parts of the world where the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus is transferred to the Sunday, we celebrated it on the Thursday, its proper day. I went up there by bus, because I was going with someone for whom the climb up the Mount of Olives would be too much. And the fact that Jesus chose to ascend from a high place is not insignificant in itself, because He could just as easily have ascended from down in the valley. Because the disciples were able to travel the first bit of the Ascension with Him, it reminds us that we are also on our way up to heaven - we're just taking a bit longer about it.
The Chapel of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives was taken over by the Muslims centuries ago; but this once a year they allow us to celebrate Masses there. I was there for the main Mass, celebrated by the Franciscans of the Holy Land. I hadn't arranged to concelebrate; but as it turned out there wouldn't have been room for me anyway, because all the concelebrants had to pile into the small chapel, leaving the rest of us out in the courtyard. As it turned out, however, I appreciated being under the open sky while we remembered Jesus going up to heaven. In fact, in Byzantine times the chapel was open to the sky.
Many homilies/sermons on the Feast of the Ascension dwell on the fact that Jesus going into heaven was not a going away from us, but in fact making Himself available to all. As I once heard it put, if Jesus had stayed on earth, we'd only get to speak to Him by phoning His secretary for an appointment!
In ancient thinking, the heavens were not a place disconnected from earthly affairs, but rather a place to have influence on earthly affairs. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me," Jesus said to the apostles (Matt 28:18). Everything and everyone comes under his kingship.
Which brings me to the political and tragic situations here in the Holy Land. As with any other cases of death and suffering caused by human injustice and hatred, it is hard to see where in all this Jesus is exercising His kingship. But as He said to Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, My servants would fight to prevent My arrest"(John 18:36). Which is not say that His kingdom does not include this world, but that it is not the worldly kind. Kingdoms and nations as we know them keep order by force; but Jesus eschews that. Even now, with all His authority in heaven and on earth, He does not forcefully bring an end to war, nor does He correct unjust political situations. Even now, it seems, His approach is the same as it was on the Cross - to let it all happen and thus transform it. In all these things, the Resurrection is our only hope.
God is not uninterested in political situations. It is part of His will for us that we should work together for the common good, and through the prophets He is critical of injustice and of failure to help the poor. St Paul tells us, however, that when God determined the boundaries of the nations, it was "so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him"(Acts 17:27).
From the perspective of eternity, nations and political systems barely exist. But human souls are immortal, and they are the primary interest of our High King. He works in the souls of those who make peace and who love their enemies. That is where His kingdom is growing, and we can see glimpses of it in the acts of goodness and kindness amongst the evil and suffering.
To conclude, in the context of yesterday's massacre at the Gaza border, I am reminded of
something from "The Last Battle" by C. S. Lewis: in the scene where the inhabitants of Narnia's world all come up to the stable door, where they either go in or shy away in fear from Aslan, it is briefly mentioned that one of the people who goes in was a dwarf who had participated in a massacre of the Talking Horses.
Musings, just sorrowful, incomplete musings. I have some related musings about "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar...", which will appear in the not too distant future.