May 12, 2013
The Ascension of the Lord
Ephesians 1:17-23 or Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:19-23
Today we celebrate the feast of the Ascension of Jesus. It was a bittersweet time for the followers of Jesus. In a very brief time, they had experienced the pain of the passion and death of Christ, his absence, and then his resurrected presence. His presence gave them confidence to live in the ways he taught. In these later days, one can imagine that they spoke about his teachings and traced again and again all that they had learned. The First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that during this time he spoke with them about the kingdom of God. And yet, now they ask him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They still carried with them the thought that the Messiah would save Israel from the oppressing nations, that he would be an earthly king who would reunite the tribes.
Now they were being told that the future of the Church would be in their hands. His mission had become theirs. They had yet to learn that Jesus’ ascension into heaven did not mean that he would be absent, but that he would live among us in a new way.
In a sense, the Feast of the Ascension introduces the story of how we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to carry on the life of Christ in this world. The Lord had to ascend to the Father so that he could send his Spirit and be with us in a new way. It is somewhat like what happens when someone we deeply love dies. We are immediately overwhelmed by our sense of loss. Then, we discover their new presence in our lives—a mere echo of the experience of Christ’s presence but overwhelming nonetheless. That person becomes present to us in a new way influencing us with all they taught us.
The task Jesus sets before the disciples is daunting. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” And then, Jesus added the words that make all the difference: “I am with you always…” Today we are sent to live as Jesus lived and to reveal his presence to the world. Our fears are eased by Christ’s presence among us and by the gift of his Spirit. Jesus’ public life grows into a worldwide ministry under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Christ is risen and in his Church. We share his inheritance now and after death.
On this day we remember that Jesus’ new life is not merely a return to the life he enjoyed before his death. We know the Lord who has ascended to his Father has sent the Spirit that guides the Church, that remains with us through the ages. In a very real sense, the Feast of the Ascension is the “Rosetta Stone” that unlocks the mystery of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.