THE FEAST OF THE ASCENSION
(Thursday after the Sixth Sunday of Easter — but it also can replace the Seventh Sunday)
“Up and Out”
Questions to Ask Yourself (Feast of the Ascension, Year A)
What does it mean to me that Jesus ascended into heaven? Does it have any influence on my life? On
the decisions I make today?
Ideas to Consider
The Entrance Antiphon tells us to stop “looking up at the skies” because, just as Jesus left, in the same way he is going to return. The Opening Prayer has us ask that we might “follow him into the new creation,” and calls his ascension our joy, “our glory and our hope.” The Responsorial Psalm just calls for celebration: “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy; a blare of trumpets for the Lord” (Psalm 47).
This is a lot to deal with! Taken together, these texts call us to “wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ” (from the Communion Rite of the Mass). But this is an active waiting: we don’t just stand around waiting for it to happen; we are sent to make it happen.
The Reign of God
Acts 1: 1-11 tells us that after his resurrection, Jesus spent forty days appearing to his apostles and “speaking about the reign of God.” We don’t know what he said, but the apostles must not have understood, because just before Jesus ascended they still thought he was going to set up a government in Israel supported by divine power! “Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Jesus didn’t answer; he just kept telling them to “wait” — for the “fulfillment of my Father’s promise,” wait to be “baptized with the Holy Spirit,” wait to “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you.” Then “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The kingdom is going to be established by divine power, but working through human weakness. It will be the power of the Holy Spirit enlightening and motivating them; a Spirit not of coercion and force, but of conversion through truth and love.
This should have told them already that the establishment of God’s reign over every human heart was going to take a long time! When we pray, “Thy kingdom come!” we are praying “Thy will be done on earth as in heaven.” When everyone really wants this, God’s reign will be a fact.
At God’s Right Hand
Ephesians 1: 17-23 tells us that in God’s time-frame Jesus is already reigning. God has “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion… not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” This is what the Ascension says: in Jesus “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy.” The man the apostles ate and drank and walked the dusty roads with, the man they saw crucified in weakness, is now seated at God’s right hand in glory, and all power is his now — and forever. St. Paul writes this so that the “eyes of your heart may be enlightened,” and “you may know what is the hope to which he has called you… and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy.” Our joy is the joy of our hope.
We need hope, unshakeable hope, because in Matthew 28: 16-20 Jesus tells the apostles and us: “Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
That is hardly a modest undertaking! But Jesus empowers us with the words, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the world.” Jesus ascended, not to leave us, but to remain with us, in every member of his body on earth who is animated by his Spirit. With us, in us and through us, Jesus continues to “go about all the cities and villages, teaching … and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness” (Matthew 4:23; 9:35). This is his ministry. He will continue it in his body, the Church, until the reign of God is established in every heart that accepts him. Then he will “come again,” his triumph revealed in the emergent glory of his body, his glory made manifest, shining in diversified beauty through each and every member of the human race who has become a transparent vessel of God’s own life and love.
Jesus ascends to make this happen. He ascends to send down the Holy Spirit. The Church professes her faith and hope in prayer: “Send forth your Spirit, and our hearts will be regenerated. And you will renew the face of the earth!” That is what we celebrate: “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy; a blare of trumpets for the Lord.”
Does the Ascension of Jesus inspire you now to let him live and continue his work in you? Does his promise of the Holy Spirit encourage you? Does it motivate you to any decisions?
Resolve to let Christ grow “to full stature” in you (Ephesians 4:13), and dedicate yourself to a lifestyle the bears witness, so that you can help bring Christ to full stature throughout the human race.