SOLEMNITY OF THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD (2019)
Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11
Psalms 47;2-3, 6-9
We celebrate today, at the virtual end of the Easter season, an important mystery of Jesus’ earthly sojourn, His Ascension into heaven. Luke, at the end of his gospel, and at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, describes what is indescribable in the leanest of ways: “he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight” (Acts); “as he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven” (Luke). It is worth noting that even though the gospel and the Acts of the Apostles are attributed to the same author, they display different views of the Ascension. In his gospel, Luke sees the Ascension as taking place on Easter Sunday, as do the Evangelists Mark and John (Matthew does not reference the Ascension). In our first reading from Acts, however, Luke suggests that the Ascension took place after forty days of “appearing” to the disciples and “speaking [to them] about the Kingdom of God.” The important thing for Luke was not so much “the when” of the Ascension, rather, the important thing for all of the Evangelists was that it happened.
There would be no earthly kingdom established by Jesus, in spite of the expectations of the apostles. Jesus was destined to return from whence He came, and the God who “raised him from the dead” would seat “him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion” (Eph. 1:22). God “put all things beneath 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” (Eph 23, NRSV). It is the enthronement of Jesus that we celebrate today, His return to His privileged position at the right hand of the Father. We are not meant to be distracted by the timing of the Ascension, nor should we worry about the mechanics of the Ascension as though we were analyzing a common magic trick. The liturgical year’s intent is to make us “witnesses of these things,” in order that we, like Jesus’ disciples, may be men and women who preach the gospel “to the ends of the earth.”
The bodily Ascension of Jesus is also meant to fill us with hope, for the humanity that Jesus embraced when He came into our world, is taken up to heaven where He is exalted. As the Collect (opening prayer) proclaims, “where the Head has gone before in glory, the Body is called to follow in hope.” We, the Body of Christ, are meant to follow the Lord Jesus, all the way to our heavenly homeland, and that journey is possible because the Spirit has been shared with us at our baptisms.
In one week’s time, we will close the great season of Easter by celebrating God’s gift of the Spirit, the Advocate who helps us live our lives as disciples of Jesus, the Christ. May the mysteries we have celebrated during this Easter season, and the mysteries we will continue to celebrate throughout the future, strengthen us for the earthly journey, fill us with joy, and cause us, like the disciples at the end of Luke’s gospel, to spend our days “continually… praising God.”
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