Acts 1:1-11; Ps. 47; Eph. 1:17-23; Lk. 24:46-53
(Audio recorded live, 29 May 2022)
The men said, “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.” On this Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, we reflect upon the mystery of Jesus’ return to the Father, where he mounts his throne to shouts of joy. We also shout with joy with our hymns of praise and cries of gladness during this holy sacrifice of the Mass. So, let us contemplate this great event in the life of the Church.
Today’s Gospel and First Reading are linked. The Acts of the Apostles is actually the second part of a two volume body of work by St. Luke. He wrote the Gospel, which ends with a bit of a cliff hanger, then continues the story in the Acts of the Apostles. And before Jesus ascends to the Father, he makes this promise to his disciples, saying, “[Y]ou will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Both accounts capture the essence of the Great Commission, to bear witness to the gospel everywhere they go, but Luke emphasizes the source of their preaching: the Holy Spirit. Jesus reminds the disciples that they will soon receive the Holy Spirit, which will lead them into all truth.
The disciples were promised the Holy Spirit, but before they could be ready to receive Him, they needed to contemplate what just happened. They knew they would not see Jesus until he comes again, rather, Jesus would be with them in Spirit. And just as Jesus revealed himself to the disciples in the breaking of the bread, they were yet to realize his sacramental presence in the Eucharist. Instead, they returned to the upper room where they continued to pray as Jesus taught them. We will hear the results of their prayers next week on Pentecost.
What does it mean that Jesus ascended to the Father? The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Christ’s body was glorified at the moment of his Resurrection….But during the forty days when he eats and drinks familiarly with his disciples and teaches them about the kingdom, his glory remains veiled under the appearance of ordinary humanity. Jesus' final apparition ends with the irreversible entry of his humanity into divine glory, symbolized by the cloud and by heaven, where he is seated from that time forward at God’s right hand.” So, there is a difference between the glory of the risen Christ and that of Christ exalted in heaven. While Jesus remained with his disciples, they saw him as a man, but as Jesus ascended into heaven, he entered fully into his divine glory. He fulfills the prophecy of Daniel who said, “To him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:14). St. Paul echoes this when he says God raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavens, “far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come.”
This is the meaning of the Ascension of our Lord. Jesus being lifted up on the Cross prefigured his ascension, and indeed was the beginning of it, but his exaltation culminates with his triumphant entry into heaven. It must have been truly awesome for the disciples to witness Jesus’ ascension into heaven, which is why they were looking intently at the sky. But, the two men remind them that this Jesus will return in the same way, a foreshadowing of the final judgment, when he will judge all peoples according to their deeds. So, we are encouraged to keep the commandments, to spread the Good News, to live our Catholic faith, and bear witness to the Truth.
May our celebration of the Ascension of the Lord keep us firmly rooted in his teaching, following in his footsteps, as we also seek to ascend with him. It is impossible for us to ascend of our own power, so let us ask for the power of the Holy Spirit to keep us on the path, to live more devout lives, to strengthen our resolve, and to raise us up on the last day. And may the communion we share today be a foretaste of the heavenly banquet we are all called to enjoy.