Feast of the Ascension of the Lord
In many dioceses in the United States this weekend is the liturgical celebration of the feast of the Ascension of the Lord. Other dioceses observe this weekend as the Seventh Sunday of Easter.
These reflections will refer to the biblical readings for the feast of the Ascension.
The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, is from the beginning of Acts. As with the Gospel of Luke, the author addresses Theophilus. The identity of Theophilus is unclear. Was Theophilus his actual name? Perhaps it was. Perhaps it was not. Theophilus also is a title, meaning “friend of God.”
In any case, this initial form of address recalls that Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles are inseparably linked. Acts simply continues the story first given in the Gospel. It is important to remember this.
As the New Testament was compiled into one set of Scriptures, and especially as the Church accepted John’s Gospel as the authentic Word of God, the Gospel of John was inserted between Luke and Acts so as not to divide the four Gospels.
However, this process upset the perception of seeing Acts as the continuation of Luke.
Important in this reading is the identification given the Apostles, 11 in number since the defection and then suicide of Judas. Acts clearly states that the Lord chose the Apostles. His selection was not insignificant or casual. It was done with the very power of the Holy Spirit.
They still need the wisdom of Jesus. They are confused about salvation and about the Savior. Will Jesus restore Israel to its old earthly might? Jesus clarifies what salvation means.
He also clarified the place of baptism. Finally, Jesus ascends to heaven. The story ends on an evangelistic note. An angel tells the Apostles, staring into the sky, to look around them and carry onward the Gospel.
For its second reading, the Church offers a passage from the Epistle to the Ephesians. This reading is a prayer that all Christians might find true wisdom in Christ, the only source of truth.
St. Matthew’s Gospel provides the last reading. This reading too identifies the dignity of the Apostles. They are with Jesus. Seeing Jesus, gloriously alive after the Crucifixion, the Apostles believe. Doubts are gone.
The Lord then commissions them to go into the world, excepting no place or anyone, and to bring all into God’s family by baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This passage not only underscores the role of the Apostles, and of the task of the Apostles to continue to proclaim God’s mercy, but it reveals the Holy Trinity.
For weeks the Church, with great joy and confidence, has proclaimed to us the reality of the Lord’s victory over death in the Resurrection. It has led us through weeks of rejoicing in the Resurrection by revealing to us the response long ago of the first Christians to the fact that Jesus overcame death.
The link between Luke’s Gospel and Acts is important. Salvation in Christ continued after the Ascension.
Jesus did not depart the earth in any final sense in the Ascension. The further unfolding of the divine plan of salvation is seen. Jesus chose the Apostles so that they would continue to preach the Gospel and reconcile humans with God.
The Church gave, and still gives, the message of the Lord. In, and through, the Church the Lord acts.
We are able to encounter Jesus — just as the first Christians encountered Him. God lives in Jesus. Jesus still is with us. He bonds with us in Baptism. In Baptism, we enter the Church and meet the Lord, forever alive, forever redeeming, forever healing, forever forgiving, forever strengthening, forever loving.
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