Ascension of the Lord - Scripture Soundings
First Reading: Acts 1:1-11
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Second Reading: Ephesians 1:17-23
Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20
Only Mark and Luke speak directly about the ascension of Jesus. Mark gives us only a single line. Luke, on the other hand, is more expansive. He also recalls the Ascension narration in the opening of his second book of the Christian Scriptures--the Acts of the Apostles. This second narration, taken from Acts, is our first reading today. Luke alone states that Jesus' ascension occurred forty days after the Resurrection.
As Jesus returns to the Father and thus disappears from their sight, the apostles remain riveted and absorbed. The angels have to bring them back to earth, so to speak. They address the apostles, "Men of Galilee, why are you standing there?" The words are reminiscent of the angels addressing the stunned women at the tomb on Easter morning: "He is not here, for he has been raised, just as he said" (Matthew 28:6).
Today's Gospel proclamation is solemn and grave. Matthew's Gospel does not mention Jesus' ascension. Rather, Matthew is concerned about handing on the mission of Jesus. The apostles offer homage; Jesus acknowledges this gesture by announcing that God, his Father, is the source of his authority. Jesus acts as one duly authorized to give the apostles the mission of teaching, baptizing, and carrying out all he had commanded.
The questioning and anxious waiting, which are recorded in the first reading, are absent in today's Gospel proclamation. The whole of Jesus' ministry is handed on to the eleven. Their mission is to reach the ends of the earth. They are assured that Jesus will be with them everywhere and always, right up to the end of time.
The death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, as well as the descent of the Holy Spirit, comprise the inseparable Paschal Mystery. We take each event in time, of course. We observe and honor one facet, then another throughout Triduum and the Easter season. Our celebration of the Ascension of the Lord focuses on Jesus' necessary departure. The apostles had been warned, or reminded, "I tell you the sober truth, it is much better for you that I go. If I fail to go, the Paraclete will never come to you, whereas if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7).
Jesus will no longer be present in the old, familiar way. He whom they have seen with their very own eyes, he whom they have touched will no longer be there. We can easily sympathize with the apostles. We can forgive them for staring up to heaven in awe, riveted to that place on earth, wishing this were not so. Or wishing they could join him. Or wishing he would return soon. But the apostles have a mission. They also have the assurance of Jesus' presence with them to the very ends of the earth and until the end of all time. God has all space and all time covered, so to speak.
For the apostles this is quite a stretch. They must tarry awhile on this earth. They must learn that though Jesus left them, he did not abandon them. He is wholly present. It is for them to receive and experience and know him in a new way. This will make all the difference to them; it will make all the difference in the world.
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Updated: May 11, 2008