SOLEMNITY OF THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD (2022)
Psalms 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
The entrance antiphon for today’s solemnity reads: “Men of Galilee, why gaze in wonder at the heavens? This Jesus whom you saw ascending into heaven will return as you saw his go, alleluia.” It’s the last sentence from our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, describing Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, where He “mounts His throne to shouts of joy” (Ps. 47:6), just as God had planned.
The Book of the Acts gives us as close to a historical account as possible of the earliest days of what would become the ‘Church’. It is worthy of note to highlight what the disciples ask Jesus, disciples who have been through the confusing and wrenching end of Jesus’ public ministry, the disciples who were privy to all of Jesus’ teaching, healings, and miracles – these disciples ask Jesus: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” What? Did they learn nothing from traveling in the presence of Jesus? Granted, it is before the Lucan bestowal of the Holy Spirit, but specifically three times in the Synoptic gospels Jesus tried to teach His disciples how different His Messiahship was going to be. Jesus’ Messiah has nothing to do with restoring the kingdom of Israel; it has nothing to do with a military takeover which will place the Jews on top and vanquish the Romans. The risen Jesus shows extraordinary patience in calmly telling His disciples that it’s not for them “to know the times or seasons that the Father has established.” What is important then and now, is that they “will be my [His] witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judaea [Jewish] and Samaria [Gentile], and to the ends of the earth [universal].” These are Jesus’ final words to His disciples in this world, and they possess considerable weight.
Of similar weight are the words of the “two men dressed in white garments [angels],” who speak the words of our Entrance Antiphon in an almost humorous way – “Guys, hey guys, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” Let’s get moving now and do what Jesus told you to do! Become witnesses, wherever you go! There is still help on the way, for the gift of the Holy Spirit is rightly credited for transforming the disciples from fraidy-cats hiding in a locked upper room (John’s gospel) into bold and courageous disciples who welcome the task of witnessing to Jesus, even if it means the surrendering of their own lives.
It is good to think of the words the angels address to the disciples as addressed to us, for we are not unlike the disciples. We spend too much time looking up at the sky, gazing towards the heavens for answers, direction, comfort, peace, and stability. There is no shame in our dependence on the God who created us, but this solemnity can confuse us into believing that God is up and not down, existing only in the heavens above. Unless we are blessed to be mystics, God is not going to appear to us to tell us what to do, tell us how to act, tell us how to behave. God, in Jesus, has already told us that with the definitive gift of His Son, God entered into our world, and through the Holy Spirit, continues to reside here. We celebrate Christ’s Ascension because while His physical presence left our world, He left us with an advocate, the Holy Spirit. There is no need for us to feel alone and left behind because of this solemnity.
Our job, like that of the disciples in today’s gospel, is to bear “witness” to Jesus. If all those who call themselves Christian took their role of witnessing to Jesus seriously, then the solution to the problems and challenges which life always brings would be only as far away as the passionate Christian standing within reach, who is part of this world in which we are privileged to live. Living as Jesus taught us to live is the antidote to what frequently ails us in this world. May we not spend time idly “looking up to heaven” for answers and direction. May we find our passion to be truly Christian with the help of the Holy Spirit so that we can become genuine “witnesses” to the God incarnate who was manifested as quintessential love, and thus become the antidote to what ails our world.