May 31, 2019

The Ascension of the Lord / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe date for celebrating the feast of the Ascension of the Lord is changeable in this country. The decision is made by bishops of each Church province for their province.

These reflections are upon readings when the feast is celebrated on what otherwise would be the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

The Acts of the Apostles supplies the first reading for Mass on this great feast, a story of the ascension of the Lord from Earth into heaven. This passage begins the Acts of the Apostles.

As with the Gospel of St. Luke, Acts seems to have been composed for a person whose name was Theophilus. It is not known if this was a proper name, or if it were a title. (In Greek, “Theophilus” means “friend of God”).

Regardless, Acts opens with a powerful message. Resplendent is the ascension of Jesus into heaven, or the lifting of Jesus from earthly space and time to return to the eternity of heaven. Like the resurrection, this act of ascending, not of being assumed, reveals that Jesus came from God, is with God, is eternal, and possesses the power of and the very nature of God.

Other points are important. The reading gives the credentials of the Apostles. Jesus chose them in a divine act. The Holy Spirit came upon them.

Jesus taught the Apostles as no one else was taught. He guided and directed them. They obeyed him. They witnessed the ascension. They were especially trained because they had a unique mission. Yet, they were humans and subject to confusion. But, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would give them insight and wisdom. Indeed, the Holy Spirit came to them, as the Church celebrates on Pentecost Sunday.

To underscore the divinity of Jesus and the Apostles’ mission, angels appear after the ascension telling the Apostles to go forward with their mission to preach the Gospel and to bring into the world the mercy, love and presence of God in Jesus.

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians is the source of the second reading. It is a beautiful prayer, asking God to give the followers of Jesus wisdom and perception. God’s wisdom and strength, the Apostle states, will be “God’s wisdom and revelation” resulting in “knowledge of him” (Eph 1:17). It counsels believers to put everything under the feet of Jesus.

St. Luke’s Gospel, the last reading, also offers an ascension narrative. Jesus leads the Apostles to a place near Bethany. (The Mount of Olives, traditionally said to have been the site of the ascension, is near Bethany.) Jesus tells the Apostles that the Scriptures have been fulfilled. This, too, is proof of the identity of Jesus.

It also is proof of God’s communication with people through the centuries, and of God’s mercy.

The Gospel passage further establishes the Apostles as the chief witnesses and primary students of the Lord. The Apostles watch the ascension of Jesus and then return to the city, determined and committed to pray in the temple constantly and to proclaim the praises of God.

Reflection

The readings powerfully testify that Jesus is God. He rose again to life after being crucified and dying. Jesus ascended into heaven. He was not “assumed” into heaven or taken to heaven. He went to heaven, breaking the bonds of Earth, with the power of God, but not forsaking the people of the Earth then or in all the subsequent years.

The readings are strongly ecclesial, stressing the identity of the Apostles, who learned from Jesus. The Spirit would come to guide them.

Important for us today and for the continuing unfolding of salvation, the Apostles formed the Church, of which true believers are part. Through the Church, in Christ, God lives and touches us still.

The Easter story and the story of salvation are approaching their climax. Jesus still lives in the Church. He is not gone from us. †

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