Feast of the Ascension of the Lord
The Acts of the Apostles supplies the first reading for this important feast day in the Church, the celebration of the Lord’s wondrous ascension into heaven.
This reading begins as if it were a letter. It is addressed to Theophilus, as was the Gospel of Luke itself. Who was Theophilus? Was he a person with this as his name? Was he a devout Christian? Someone curious about Jesus? Possibly, he was devoutly Christian, because Theophilus may have been a title. In Greek, it means “friend of God.”
Regardless, both Acts and Luke were sent, as it were, to this person, arguing for a common authorship of these two revealed works of the Christian Scriptures.
In this reading, Acts states that it continues the story of salvation in Jesus begun in the Gospel of Luke. It describes the ascension of the Lord into heaven, an event occurring after Jesus had risen from the dead and had been among the Apostles and others faithful to God.
As the moment of the ascension approached, the Apostles still were confused. This confusion simply reveals that they were human. Their ability to grasp the things of God, and the mind of God, was limited, to say the least.
Jesus eases their confusion. He affirms that they are limited, but Jesus also affirms that all is in God’s plan. The Apostles have been commissioned. To enable them to fulfill their commissions, Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will be with them. The Spirit will guide them to proclaim the Gospel even “to the ends of the earth.”
The Letter to the Ephesians provides the next reading. The reading is a prayer. It begs the blessings and guidance of God upon the faithful Christians of Ephesus. They need God, as all humans need God. God’s strength will be mighty. After all, divine strength raised Jesus from the dead. It is a power over everyone and everything.
St. Mark’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is the very last section of Mark. As such, it is the first Gospel’s conclusion. It is a Resurrection narrative.
The Lord, having risen on Easter, appears to the Eleven, the surviving Apostles reduced by one in number because of the suicide of the despondent, traitorous Judas.
In a final commission, Jesus sends the Eleven into the world, far and wide. They are to proclaim the Gospel to all creation. He has prepared them, instructed them, guided them. Anyone who accepts this proclamation will be saved. Anyone who believes in the Gospel will be capable of marvelous deeds. The Lord will protect them. No true believer will ever die an eternal death.
Then, the story says that Jesus ascended into heaven. Faithful to the Lord, the Apostles went forward and proclaimed the Gospel as they had been commissioned, to the “ends of the earth.”
Celebrating the Ascension of the Lord in the form of a special liturgical feast day is very revered and old in the Church.
Once, in early Christianity, seemingly, it was celebrated together with Pentecost. For 17 centuries, however, it has been a feast of its own.
Such is proper. The Ascension revealed much. Many lessons come from this feast. It again reveals Jesus, divine and human, crucified but risen. It reveals that we are not alone. Christ did not leave us. He lives with us, and teaches us still, through the Apostles, and through the structures and sacraments of the Church that they formed in the Lord’s name and at the Lord’s command.
This feast, however, is more than a commemoration of a day 20 centuries ago. It calls us modern disciples to live for Jesus, and to love all others as Jesus loved. Then, we too shall ascend, finally, to heavenly glory.
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