Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
The date for celebrating the feast of the Ascension of the Lord is optional in this country. The decision is made by bishops of each province, for their province. These reflections are based on the readings for when the feast is celebrated on what otherwise would be the Seventh Sunday of Easter.
The Acts of the Apostles supplies the first reading, a story of the Ascension of the Lord from earth into heaven. This passage begins Acts.
As with the Gospel of Luke, Acts seems to have been composed for one person whose name was Theophilus. It is not known if this was a proper name, or if it were a title. (In Greek, “Theophilus” means “friend of God.”
Regardless, Acts opens with a powerful message. Resplendent is the ascension of Jesus into heaven, or the lifting of Jesus from earthly space and time to return to heaven. This act of ascending, not of being assumed, reveals, as the Resurrection, that Jesus came from God, is with God, is eternal, and possesses the power of God.
Other points are important. The reading gives the credentials of the Apostles. Jesus chose them, a divine act. The Holy Spirit came upon them.
Jesus taught the Apostles as no one else was taught. He guided and directed them. They obeyed him. They witnessed the Ascension. They were especially trained because they had a unique mission. Yet, they were humans and confused. But Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would give them insight and wisdom. Indeed, the Holy Spirit came to them, as the Church will celebrate on Pentecost.
To underscore the divinity of Jesus, and the Apostles’ mission, angels appear after the Ascension, telling the Apostles to go forward with their mission to preach the Gospel and to bring into the world the mercy, love and presence of God in Jesus.
The Epistle to the Ephesians, the source of the second reading, is a beautiful prayer, asking God to give the followers of Jesus wisdom and perception. God’s wisdom and strength, the reading states, will be “God’s wisdom and revelation” resulting in “knowledge of him.” It counsels believers to put everything under the feet of Jesus.
St. Luke’s Gospel, the last reading, also offers an Ascension narrative. Jesus leads the Apostles to a place near Bethany. The Mount of Olives, traditionally said to have been the site of the Ascension, is near Bethany.
Jesus tells the Apostles that the Scriptures have been fulfilled. This too is proof of the identity of Jesus. It also is proof of God’s communication with people through the centuries, and of God’s mercy.
The Gospel further establishes the Apostles as the chief witnesses, and primary students, of the Lord. The Apostles watch the Ascension of Jesus and then return to the city, determined and committed to pray in the temple constantly and to proclaim the praises of God.
The readings powerfully testify that Jesus is God. He rose again to life after being crucified and dying, literally. Jesus ascended into heaven. He was not “assumed” into heaven or taken to heaven. He went to heaven, breaking the bonds of earth, with the power of God, but not forsaking the people of the earth, then or in all the subsequent years.
The readings are strongly ecclesial, stressing the identity of the Apostles, who learned from Jesus. The Spirit would come to guide them.
Important for us today, and for the continuing unfolding of salvation, the Apostles formed the Church, of which true believers are part. Through the Church, in Christ, God lives and touches us still.
The Easter story and the story of salvation are approaching their climax. Jesus lives still in the Church. He has not gone from us.
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