May 20, 2023 // Perspective
Jesus Is with Us Always
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 is also 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, eleven 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.
The site in Jerusalem believed by the first Christians, and still venerated as the site of the Lord’s Ascension, is only a small chapel, surprisingly. It is no grand basilica, but it commemorates a momentous event. Jesus bodily ascended into heaven.
At that moment, also wonderfully, the Lord reassured us, and the disciples at the time, that we never would be alone. He always will be with us.
Indeed, The Gospel of Matthew concludes with Christ’s reassurance, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
No human life is free of difficulty and distress. Conditions surrounding everyone can be vexing. Look at the Ukrainians. Look at people enduring chronic illnesses. Look at the poor.
The Lord’s words are consoling and they are real. Jesus is with us in the strength of grace, in the hope of eternity with God. He is with us in the Church, begun by the Apostles after the Ascension. He is with us in the Sacraments and in the Eucharist.
Before ascending, Jesus empowered the Apostles and then sent them.
He empowers us and sends us to refresh our worlds, confident that we are called, blessed, and gifted.
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