Today we celebrate the end of the great Paschal 40 days - the period that leads from Easter to today, Ascension Day. Even in normal times this feast of the Ascension can be perplexing, encapsulating the tension that Christians live with, caught in the midst of the language of ‘going away’ on the one hand, and ‘I am with you always’ on the other.
In these times of so-called 'social-distancing' perhaps this is thrown into a new relief. In my lecture on 'The New Normal' for Lucy Cavendish College yesterday, I reminded hearers that the World Health Organisation preferred the term 'physical-distancing'. Indeed, 'social-distancing' has been widely criticised as a description of what we are being asked to do - finding ways of being socially close are more important than ever when human beings are kept apart.
The Ascension is a distancing which calls for something new - for those who experience the pain of separation to trust in a different kind of Presence.
This Presence would go beyond the corporeal to be recognized as something which was beyond description - something like a dove, something like a flame, transcending words spoken and heard.
But that celebration is for next week. For now we are glad to celebrate today's feast, and then to wait for the Gift, not dreamily gazing skywards, but inspired to be newly inspired - inbreathed - to proclaim the glory of the Lord in our daily lives. Not so easy when we are physically-distanced from one another. Yet only ultimately made possible because His Spirit transcends time and space. His distance enables his Presence. He has gone away. He is with us always.