Feast of the Ascension of the Lord
Celebrating the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord varies from place to place. In some places, this feast will have been celebrated on Thursday, May 10. In these places, the liturgy for this weekend will be that of the Seventh Sunday of Easter.
In other dioceses, the feast is celebrated this weekend. These reflections will address the readings for the feast of the Ascension, not for the Seventh Sunday.
In the opening reading, from the first verses of the Acts of the Apostles, the author speaks first to Theophilus.
Scholars debate about the identity of Theophilus. Some believe that it is the actual proper name of a person in the early Church. Others, noting that the name is the Greek translation for “Friend of God,” hold that it was not a proper name but rather something of a title of respect or endearment.
Regardless, the use of this name or title reveals the link between the Gospel of Luke and Acts. Both are addressed to Theophilus.
This reading is about the Ascension. It also is about the Apostles, and more importantly it is about the special role that Jesus gave them. They witnessed the Ascension, as they witnessed the other great events in the mission of Christ: the miracles, the preaching to the multitudes, the Last Supper, Good Friday and the resurrection.
Intimacy with the Lord prepared them to teach the Gospel. He commissioned them. The Holy Spirit empowered them.
Angels challenged these privileged Apostles when Jesus ascended, telling them not to look longingly to the skies, nor at each other; not being locked in where they were before meeting Jesus, but to go abroad — taking with them the Good News of God’s mercy, come what may.
Indeed, as the future unfolded, all went abroad preaching the Gospel. All, save one, were martyrs.
For the second reading, this liturgy presents the Epistle to the Ephesians. In this epistle, Paul prays that God will give wisdom and insight to all who follow the Lord. It is a wisdom too great to be native to humans. God must provide it.
In the reading, Paul extols Jesus as the Lord and Savior, supreme above all creation, including all humans.
St. Mark’s Gospel is the last reading. The Lord sends the Apostles into the entire world “to proclaim the Good News of salvation.” He invests them with divine power, giving them authority even over the devil. They will be able to flaunt death. They will be able to cure the sick.
They will be able to act as the Lord acted. In every sense, they will represent Jesus. The Gospel concludes that as the Apostles went far and wide, the Lord “worked through them.”
Today the Church celebrates the Ascension of the Lord. This great event of the Ascension, so well described in the Scriptures, is a sign of the Lord’s divine identity — as was the resurrection, certainly as much as were the miracles.
The story, however, as reflected in Acts and in Mark, does not end with its affirmation of the place of Jesus as Son of God and Savior, visibly seen during the Lord’s public ministry in the Roman province of Palestine in the first century AD.
For us Christians today, as for all Christians who have lived since the events recorded in these Scriptures, the story has critically strong personal implications. The Lord, crucified on Calvary, risen at Easter, is with you and me. He is in our world. He has been in the world, living, healing, and saving, for 20 centuries.
He lives through the Apostles and their successors. Through them, we hear the Lord. Through them, we meet the Lord. Jesus is Lord. He is God. He lives!
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