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 will never end.
Then there is the Ascension in which Jesus is taken up into heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand.
And finally Pentecost in which God pours forth his Spirit upon the church and all humankind.
All three experiences are intertwined; they reveal different aspects or facets of the same reality. The Scriptures separate them over 50 days to afford us the opportunity to reflect on each aspect of the one Easter mystery.
Now, let us look at today’s feast, the Ascension.
At the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostle (first reading ~ Acts 1:1-11), written by the same author as Luke’s gospel, describes the experience.
Jesus told them not to depart from Jerusalem but to “wait for the promise of the Father of which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” He was, of course, referring to Pentecost.
. . . 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.
(However, in today’s Gospel from Matthew, the “lifting” is not mentioned, just the commissioning.)
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.”
This feast is about heaven, but also about earth.
Jesus is taken into heaven; that is, he returns to his Father where sits at the Father’s right hand.
And the second reading from 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.” (Ephesians 1:23)
Thus, there is a cosmic dimension to Christology. The great mystic and theologian Father Teilhard de Chardin talked about “Christogenesis” – the entire universe evolving by the power of Christ’s all-embracing love. 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 – that the whole planet was the body of Christ.
So we think about Jesus as Lord of the Universe, and we pray that people on earth would somehow find ways to stop the violence and inhumanity toward each other. And so the Feast of Ascension is also about earth.
The angels ask the disciples — Why are you standing there looking up in the sky? You and I 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 experiences with one’s own eyes and ears what has taken place.
A witness is one who has filtered through one’s own senses what their account of the truth is.
I consider myself a witness to the resurrection. I have had enough experiences of risen life, even 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 immersed in the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I know this also, because Jesus has allowed me the ability to share his life with others, and they with me. Many others have deepened and enriched their faith as the Holy Spirit worked through me.
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.
During the coming week may we pray that the Holy Spirit would renew each of us individually, the whole Church of God and indeed the whole world.
Christ is Risen!
Now, before you go, here’s a rousing version of the wonderful hymn, Crown Him with many Crowns. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.