June 1, 2014 The Ascension of the Lord Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11 Ephesians 1:17-23 Matthew 28:16-20
“Why are you standing there looking at the sky?” The First Reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, depicts the confusion and surprise of the disciples. Jesus had taught them throughout his public life. They witnessed his passion and then he came back to them after the resurrection. He told them that he would send them the Holy Spirit. But Luke tells us they were still asking about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. Again he assured them that the Holy Spirit would enable them to be his witnesses and then “He was lifted up and a cloud took them from their sight.” No wonder they were confused.
The days when their faith was rooted in the physical presence of Jesus were over. It was a beginning. Now they were being led to the realization that the Lord was not only with them on earth but would lead them into eternity. The Ascension made sense. There had to be a day when the Jesus of earth became the Christ of heaven.
The First Reading is from the Acts of the Apostles--the book that shows us that the life of Christ continues in his Church. Jesus is not the one who was; he is the one who is. In a sense, it is our story, the tale of how we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. But the disciples had not yet experienced the coming of the Spirit. They had yet to learn the paradox of Jesus present with God and also present in the world.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples what their own mission is all about. “Go into the whole world,” he says, “and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” Think for a moment about how the apostles must have felt. Surely the task was daunting. Jesus’ words are no less challenging when we hear them now.
Today, on the Feast of the Ascension, 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 the Father is in his presence and promises to send his Spirit. This is 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 and his very identity. This is a festival that helps us understand our faith. It is a feast that gives us the courage to spread that faith.
The Feast of the Ascension links all the celebrated elements of the Paschal Mystery of Christ: His passion and death, His resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. As a community, we move with faith toward the celebration of Pentecost.