THEME: JESUS ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN
READINGS: Acts 1:1-11 / Ephesians 1:17-23/ Matthew 28:16-20
The Ascension of the Lord
Today’s gospel reading narrates our Lord Jesus’ great commission to His apostles on the day of His ascension into heaven. This great commission was for the apostles to go out and preach the good news to all nations (Matt. 28:16-20). Then, Acts 1:1-11, which is today’s first reading, gives us some additional information about the event of the Lord’s ascension. In the first place, the apostles were instructed by Jesus to remain in Jerusalem to receive the Holy Spirit who would empower them to fulfill the great commission. Secondly, Jesus ascended into heaven in the full glare of the apostles, who were overawed by the glorious spectacle. Today’s feast is about this second bit of information: the ascension of the Lord.
Of course, the apostles did not grasp the full meaning of the out-of-this-world event which they witnessed on that day. Their wonderment is clear in the words of the two angels who addressed them. The angels said: ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’ (Acts 1: 11).
Now, though, how blessed are the apostles who are enjoying the glory of heaven with our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, and appreciating the full meaning of His ascension! These blessed apostles are now in a better place to appreciate the glory, power and majesty of God and the overwhelming heavenly riches which He has in store for all of us, thanks to the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ ascension was majestic and glorious in every respect. However, someone may be thinking that Elijah’s ascent was also glorious (2 kings 2:11). But, wait a moment! In the first place, whereas Elijah needed a vehicle (a fiery chariot with horses to carry him), our Lord needed no transportation. Our Lord who descended from heaven thirty-three plus years earlier by His own divine will, returned to His heavenly home by His own accord and power – that is far more than a superman!
Secondly, whereas the chariot which carried Elijah was symbolically powered by fire, Jesus who needed no vehicle required no external fuel to power His ascension. For His own inherent divine power generated the supreme energy that lifted him up.
No wonder, then, Jesus’ awesome unaided ascension in the full view of His apostles wiped away any lingering doubts about His resurrection (in their minds). That is, for those apostles who initially doubted the Lord’s power to conquer death, His glorious ascension in their full view demonstrated beyond doubt He has resurrected.
Furthermore, beloved, Jesus ascended into heaven, not to abandon us, but to prepare a place for us. Thus, He assured the apostles at the Last Supper, and by implication all of us that He was going to prepare a place in heaven for us. He added that when this is done, He will come and take us there (cf. John 14:1-6).
Now, Jesus Christ is our Head and we are His body (cf. Eph. 1:23). Now, at the delivery of a baby, the wish is that his/her head descends first. This is because, when the head exits first, the body will usually follow suit. Similarly, the gloriously ascension (entrance) into heaven of Christ, our Head, gives us hope that we who are His body will eventually follow where our Head has gone to. Hence, as we celebrate the Lord’s ascension, the whole Church prays: ‘the Lord Jesus … Mediator between God and man …ascended, not to distance Himself from our lowly state but that we, His members, might be confident of following where He, our Head and Founder, has gone before’ (‘Preface I of the Ascension of the Lord’ in The Roman Missal).
Beloved, it should be clear, then, that the Solemn Feast of the Ascension of our Lord is a feast of faith and hope. It strengthens our faith in the Lord’s resurrection and renews our hope in the glorious life of heaven. In view of this, the Church chooses as second reading a passage of St. Paul in which he prays that God will enlighten us to appreciate better what the Lord has in store for us on account of the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ: ‘May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power in us who believe according to the working of His great might which He accomplished in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and made Him sit at His right hand in the heavenly places…’ (Eph. 1:17-21).
Beloved, may God open our minds and hearts to appreciate ever more what is in store for us, to appreciate ever more what Jesus Christ has gone to prepare for us. May we one day, join the saints and angels to fully enjoy for all eternity what our Head, Jesus Christ, is now enjoying.
Finally, let us pray that the Holy Spirit may give us the grace to meet all the demands and challenges of earthly life, and never allow us to be distracted from aspiring to realize what God has in store for us in heaven. Amen!
By Most Rev. John Kobina Louis