Forty days after his resurrection Jesus ascended into heaven. He left his disciples and entrusted them with a mission to continue his salvific work on earth. Even though he was leaving them in the bodily form, he promised to remain with them through the Holy Spirit, which the Father will send upon them. This Holy Spirit would guide the Church until the end of time when Jesus returns again in his glory.
Msgr. Peter Elliott in these words describes the mystery of the Ascension:
“The visible manifestations of the risen Lord terminated in a definitive moment of mission, farewell and departure, which took the form of his glorious Ascension into heaven in the sight of the apostles. In this event we encounter the fascinating challenge of Christian eschatology, the tension between “now” and “not yet”. He who departs is still with us. He who ascends is our High Priest, interceding for us before the Father. He who goes up in glory will return again to judge the living and the dead, for this is a celebration of his eternal Kingship.”
The readings for today are:
Jesus Ascends Into Heaven
The first reading comes from the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. It begins with the prologue in which Luke states that he is beginning a second book that will be the continuation of his Gospel story. In a few sentences of his prologue Luke summarizes the entire mission of Jesus:
“In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:1-3).
This short summary contains some very important insights. Luke emphasizes that the apostles, chosen by Jesus, were made the witnesses of the teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus. After his resurrection, Jesus continued to teach and instruct them for 40 days before he ascended to heaven. The authority and power that the disciples enjoy come from Jesus himself who made them the pillars of the Church.
The Apostles are not supposed to preach their own ideas or agendas – their mission is clear: they are to preach Jesus Christ. They are to be obedient to the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised to send them – “In a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4). Like Abraham before the ages, the apostles are to leave their land and go on a journey to preach the Gospel with courage and conviction. So Jesus, before his ascension into heaven, entrusts his apostles with the mission to go to the whole world and to proclaim the Gospel. His own salvific mission on earth is completed and will be continued through the ministry of the Church until the end of time.
In the theology of Luke, the key to understand Jesus mission lays in the idea of ascent: first from Galilee to Jerusalem (Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem in the Gospel), and second – from Jerusalem to heaven. In Jesus’ ascension into heaven his mission is completed – he came back from heaven and now returns there. However, Jesus did not leave his Church but will remain with her through his Holy Spirit until the end of the age. And, as the men dressed in white garments assured the apostles, “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” (Acts 1:11). Jesus will return again. In the meantime, the Church must continue his salvific mission of earth.
We are reminded that as Christians, by the virtue of baptism, we are crafted into Jesus Christ and are members of his Church. We too have the mission and vocation. Our mission is to continue Jesus’ salvific work: to proclaim his Gospel and to witness to God’s love, always trusting that Jesus remains with us and strengthens us with his power.
Realize What God Has Done For You
Paul begins his Letter to the Ephesians with a blessing in which he contemplates the beautiful and generous salvific plan of God the Father. God in his mercy “has made known to us the mystery of his will” (Ephesians 1:9). God the Father sent Jesus, his Son, to save the entire world and the Ephesians are blessed to be a part of God’s plan through their faith.
After the blessing, Paul thanks God and prays for Christians in Ephesus so that they may receive “a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him” (Ephesians 1:17). In other words, Paul asks God to send the spirit on the Ephesians so that they may understand the mystery of God’s plan toward them. Moreover, Paul asks God to give the Ephesians spiritual insight, so that they may live with realization of what God had done for them and what God has prepared for them “in accord with the exercise of his great might” (Ephesians 1:19). Paul wants Ephesians never to forget the blessings and gifts of God that they had been allowed to taste and to share.
Jesus’ resurrection, his ascension into heaven and his power and authority over everything that exists point out to the incredible glory of God who in his Son Jesus Christ conquered death and any power working against his salvific plan. Thus Christians can live without any fear. Jesus has already conquered all his enemies. He sits at the right hand of God and is the head of the Church with which he is intrinsically connected through his Holy Spirit.
This difficult text from Paul (Paul has an ability to construct sentences that are a mile long – a nightmare for lectors!) reminds us of all the incredible blessings that God has bestowed on us through his Son Jesus Christ. In Jesus and only in him is the source of all the blessings. He is at the very center of the salvific plan of God the Father who has saved the world through him. We must not take all these blessings for granted but put them to effective use in our lives.
As a text for our reflection for Ascension, I chose Benedict XVI address from last year. The Holy Father reminds us that Jesus did not abandon us when he ascended into heaven. We still have access to him in his Church. “We can hear, see and touch our Lord Jesus in the Church, especially through the word and the sacraments,” writes the pope. He goes on to encourage us to stay connected to Jesus through the active participation in the life-giving sacraments of the Church.
Benedict XVI. Regina Caeli. May 16, 2011
In the Liturgy it narrates of the episode of the final departure of Jesus from his disciples (cf. Lk 24: 50-51; Acts 1: 2, 9); but it is not an abandonment, because he remains always with them with us but under a new form. St Bernard of Clairvaux explains that Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven is accomplished in three steps: “The first is the glory of the Resurrection; the second is the power to judge; and the third is sitting at the right hand of the Father” (Sermo de Ascensione Domini 60, 2: Sancti Bernardi Opera, t. vi 1, 291, 20-21). Such an event is preceded by the blessing of the disciples, whom he prepares to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, in order that salvation is proclaimed everywhere. Jesus himself says to them: “You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you” (cf. Lk 24: 47, 49).
The Lord draws the gaze of the Apostles our gaze toward Heaven to show how to travel the road of good during earthly life. Nevertheless, he remains within the framework of human history, he is near to each of us and guides our Christian journey: he is the companion of the those persecuted for the faith, he is in the heart of those who are marginalized, he is present in those whom the right to life is denied. We can hear, see and touch our Lord Jesus in the Church, especially through the word and the sacraments.
In this regard, I call on children and young people who during this Easter Season are receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, to remain faithful to the Word of God and to the doctrine learnt, and also to assiduously approach Confession and the Eucharist, conscious of having been chosen and constituted to witness to the Truth. I renew my particular invitation to my Brothers in the Episcopate, that “in their life and actions they distinguish themselves by a powerful evangelical witness” (Letter proclaiming the Year for Priests) and know also how to use the means of communication wisely to make known the life of the Church and help the men of today to discover the Face of Christ (cf. Message for the 44th World Day of Social Communications, 24 January 2010).
Dear Brothers and Sisters, the Lord opening the way to Heaven, gives us a foretaste of divine life already on this earth. A 19th-century Russian author wrote in his spiritual testament: “Observe the stars more often. When you have a burden in your soul, look at the stars or the azure of the sky. When you feel sad, when they offend you… converse… with Heaven. Then your soul will find rest” (Pavel A. Florenskij.)
To read my theological reflection on the mystery of Ascension from last year, click on the link below: