The feast of the Ascension of our Lord is part of the Easter mystery. First is the Resurrection in which Jesus conquers death for us and reveals that life for us will never end. What good news this is!
Then there is the Ascension in which Jesus is taken up into heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand. This too is good news.
And finally, Pentecost in which God pours forth his Spirit upon the church and all humankind. Thus, the church was born and has continued to proclaim the good news for 2000 years.
All three experiences are intertwined; they reveal different aspects or facets of the same reality. The scriptures and the Church’s liturgy separate them over 50 days to afford us the opportunity to reflect on each aspect of the Easter mystery.
Let us look at today’s feast—the Ascension.
The beginning of the Acts of the Apostle (first reading), written by the same author as Luke’s gospel, describes the experience. First he talks about the resurrection, that Jesus presented himself alive to the disciples after his crucifixion, and appeared to them during forty days and spoke to them about the kingdom of God.
He enjoined them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father.” “John baptized with water,” he said, but “in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” He, of course, was referring to Pentecost.
The disciples asked, “Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now? Jesus told them that was not for them to know – only the Father, but then he said, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you
AND YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, and to the ends of the earth.
Then Jesus was lifted up; a cloud took him from their sight.
They stood there, awestruck, spellbound.
Then two men dressed in white garments stood beside them and said,
“Men of Galilee, why are standing there looking at the sky?
This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
Thus, the feast of Ascension is about heaven and about earth.
Jesus is taken into heaven; that is, he returns to his Father where he sits at the Father’s right hand, the place of honor.
Ephesians states that God the Father “put all things beneath Christ’s feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” (1:23)
Thus, there is a cosmic dimension to Christology. That, in a way, is what the feast of Ascension celebrates. The great mystic and theologian Father Teilhard de Chardin talked about “Christogenesis.” He saw the entire universe evolving by the power of Christ’s all-embracing love toward an Omega Point—toward Christ himself.
When Chardin was far away from bread or wine and could not celebrate Mass, he talked fervently and passionately about the “Mass on the World” as if the whole planet was the body of Christ.
So today we think about Jesus as Lord of the universe, and we also pray that people on earth would somehow find ways to stop the violence and inhumanity toward each other, to stop destroying this planet and each other.
Thus, the feast of Ascension is also about earth. The angels ask the disciples:
“Why are you standing there looking up in the sky?” You have work to do!
“YOU MUST BE MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”
A witness is one who knows with one’s own eyes and ears what has taken place. A witness is one who has filtered through their own senses, and sheltered in their own mind and heart, what their account of the truth is.
I consider myself a witness to the resurrection. I have had enough experiences of risen life, of Jesus, of mystical experience that I am convinced that Jesus is real, that he lives and reigns, that he empowers us through his Spirit. Throughout my life I have found myself at times immersed in the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I know Christ’s resurrection and ascension also because Jesus has allowed me the privilege to share his life with others. I’m aware that others have deepened and enriched their faith as the Holy Spirit worked through me.
And if you think about it, I am sure you will find that others have come to Jesus through your word and example. You, too, are witnesses of the Resurrection.
And here is a mystery—the suffering, death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus—a mystery about how the faith is shared with us that has its origin in God—a wonderful mystery that I call you to participate in. And if you know that mystery already, then I call us to rejoice in it on this feast day.
So Jesus, gone to heaven, gives authority to his apostles and disciples on earth. And WE are his witnesses!
Brothers and sisters, we have work to do. We are put on notice in the scriptures of today’s feast. Next Sunday we will attend to the third aspect of the Easter mystery, Pentecost, the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all humankind.
Let us pray that the Holy Spirit be poured out on each of us, upon our nation, and on all humankind.
Now, before you go, here’s the great psalm for the day “God mounts his throne with shouts of Joy” with a slide show. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings: Click here.