Jesus said to his disciples: “… I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth… he remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans…” (Jn 14: 16-18)
During the years of Jesus’ public ministry on earth, his companions, the twelve Apostles, could not have had a greater advocate. When St. John the Apostle closes his gospel narrative by declaring that there are not enough pages in the world to record all the amazing things that Jesus accomplished on earth (Jn 21:25), we get some notion of the incomparable protection the Twelve came to experience during those years. There certainly were times when the Apostles still felt fear as just before Jesus calmed the stormy sea (Mk 4:25). However, over time and after the witness of many miracles and escapes they must have gained the confidence that they could not be harmed or threatened as long as the Lord was by their side.
Therefore, we can surmise what the Apostles must have felt when after entering Jerusalem triumphantly with Jesus they lost Him to persecution and death in that city. The Apostles were not soldiers or spies. They were not prepared to repel and overcome such a conspiracy. Where could the Apostles go now or what could they do after this, having been in the precious company of the Son of God for so long yet now fully bereft of his care? They regrouped, but only in hiding. Thereafter incredibly, Jesus appeared to them three days later on Easter Sunday evening. The advocate had returned – but only for a time. He ascended into heaven and the Apostles were once again seemingly unprotected.
During this week we celebrate Ascension Thursday. Thus we place on our bulletin cover a work by the great Dutch master Rembrandt entitled The Ascension of Christ (1636). Rembrandt was a great painter of the baroque period especially in the style of Tenebrism in which the artist casts a great contrast between light and darkness.
Interestingly, the central focus in this work of Rembrandt, that is Christ ascending, appears more like paintings of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary which usually have her rising on a cloud supported by angels. In most Ascension works, Jesus rises on his own power or appears drawn into heaven above. One possible reason for this presentation is that Rembrandt had been commissioned by a representative of the Prince of Orange to model his work on Peter Paul Rubens a distinctly different Dutch baroque painter who completed a brilliant Assumption work.
In Rembrandt’s Ascension all natural light is overcome so that even the brightness of the day appears as darkness in the presence of the divine illumination of heaven. What we have here is a vision. How else can one capture efficiently the distance between earth and sky. Most importantly for our meditation today we see the beginning of an exchange of the divine advocacy; for as Jesus ascends to His Father, the Holy Spirit descends toward Him eager for his arrival upon the earth to enter into the hearts of all the faithful.
We have only two more liturgical weeks before we arrive at Pentecost and so we should be readying ourselves now to be renewed by our new advocate and protector, the Holy Spirit.
-Steve Guillette, Director of Pastoral Services