May 28, 2017 — The Ascension of the Lord
Today we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord. One writer maintains that this is not just something that happened 2,000 years ago, but an event which literally unlocks the meaning of life, and reveals to us the plan of God for all creation. If that is even partially correct, this is something to which we need to pay attention and consider what it does mean for our lives.
Our readings for this holy day universally reinforce not only Jesus’ physical ascension, but also the design He set forth for His Church and for His work to continue. St. Augustine once wrote, “Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with Him. Listen to the words of the Apostle: ‘If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth.’ For just as He remained with us even after His Ascension, so we too are already in heaven with Him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.”
In our First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles, which comes to us from the absolute beginning of Acts, we hear, “…He was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom He had chosen.” The succeeding readings complement that by making it clear whom the chosen should be. We often speak in the Church of being called, called by Christ to serve. That is in part what today is all about.
Jesus’ followers give every indication that they expect everything to occur right then. They asked “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” The key phrase is “at this time.” Imagine if Jesus had replied that the process of restoring the Kingdom would be ongoing for more than 2,000 years. Yet, that is the reality we now understand. Jesus said to them, and to us, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” This is a definite statement. The Lord goes on to indicate that we all are to be His witnesses; that, too, is not a request or a command; it is a statement of fact. If we want to be witnesses though, we must be filled with the Holy Spirit, and that may require an effort on our part.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, our Second Reading, speaks a message that parallels the charge given by the Lord in the initial reading. Paul says, “May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call.”
The term the “eyes of your heart” explains much of what Paul was praying for. Do our hearts have eyes or is it just our minds? God wants us to understand in our hearts, and that is more important than an intellectual appreciation. In Scripture the word “heart” is often used to mean the complete core and center of life. Paul speaks of “hope” also. The fact that we have hope is what may give us the strength and resolve to be the witnesses Christ wants, and to help us to answer Christ’s specific call for us. We have a future of resurrection and eternal life, and we must live accordingly.
Jesus’ words, as reported in the Gospel Reading from Matthew, are “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you always until the end of the age.” As is always the case, these words are intended for us also. This is called by some “the Great Commission.”
When we were baptized, we were baptized with water, but more important than that, we were at that moment incorporated in Jesus Christ Himself, made members of His Body, the Church. St. Augustine also wrote, “Where the Head is, there is the Body; where I am, there is my Church. We, too, are one; the Church is in me and I in Her, and we two are your Beloved.” Yes, we have ascended with the Lord, but are we part of the Church in the way Jesus wanted us to be? Is the Church part of us? It should be. We are called, and we must work each day to respond to that calling. That is what being a good steward is about.