The Feast of the Ascension of the Lord ~ May 21st, 2023
We’re coming to the conclusion of our Easter season now. I’ve enjoyed writing these Easter blogs for you because it’s impacted my own spirituality as I was researching and writing for you.
The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord is part of the Easter mystery. First was the Resurrection six weeks ago on Easter Sunday 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 (designated, you may remember as “Ascension Thursday,” but to get more people to celebrate it, the feast was transferred in most dioceses to the following Sunday–May 21st.)
And finally Pentecost in which God pours forth his Spirit upon the church and all humankind on Sunday, May 28th.
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.”
What do you think it would’ve been like to have been there?
As we read the last words of Jesus to the men he had chosen to carry on his mission—men he had fondly gathered, camped out with, ate with, slept with, talked and joked with, and formed to carry on his mission. This last meeting with Jesus, Scripture scholar William Barclay says, he did three things:
~ He assured them of his power.(Matthew says they doubted.)
~ He gave them a commission. He sent them out to make all the world his disciples.
~ He promised them a presence. It must have been a staggering thing for eleven humble Galileans to be sent forth to the conquest of the world. Even as they heard it, their hearts must have failed them. But no sooner than the command was given, than the promise was fulfilled. They were sent out—as we are—on the greatest task of history, but with them there was the greatest presence in the world.
And we remember, they went out to the ends of the earth as they knew it, and all were martyred for their faithfulness and zeal, except for one.
Then, Acts says, “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.
Pope Frances tells us, “The Ascension of Jesus into heaven acquaints us on this deeply consoling reality of our journey in Christ, true God and true man,, our humanity was taken up to God. Christ opened up the path to us. If we entrust our life to him. If we let ourselves be guided by him, we are certain to be in safe hands. This is why Pope Benedict XVI wrote, to it would be a mistake to interpret the Ascension as “the temporary absence of Christ from the world.” Rather, “we go to heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and enter into him.” Heaven is a person. Jesus himself is what we call heaven.” ~ From the introduction to Mass for the Ascension / Magnificat May 2023 issue p.280
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 our Lord and our Blessed Lady would watch over us all. 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, it might seem, 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.
This is true 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 my priesthood.
I will celebrate the 54th anniversary of ordination next Wednesday, May 24th, and I thank you. my readers, for sharing my priestly ministry with me as long as you’ve been with 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 Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.