May 8, 2016 — Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
Acts 1: 1-11; Ps 47: 2-3, 6-9; Eph 1: 17-23; Lk 24: 46-53
We commemorate on this Seventh Sunday of Easter the Ascension of the Lord, Jesus Christ, directly into Heaven. This past Thursday was officially Ascension Thursday, but almost all dioceses in the United States have transferred the Holy Day to the Sunday following, today.
Our readings open with the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles. In fact, today’s reading is the absolute opening of Acts. Scholars almost universally agree that Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Luke were written by the same author. There was a time in Church history when they were the same Book, with Luke being Part 1 and Acts being Part 2.
The Gospel of Luke, today’s Gospel Reading (Chapter 24; verses 51-53), literally closes with Jesus’ Ascension. Our First Reading for today opens repeating that Ascension: “When he said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from sight.” Jesus’ final instructions to His Apostles and followers were not to depart from Jerusalem until they had received the Holy Spirit. That involved a period of waiting for them. Waiting is always difficult; we experience that sense of anxiety and anticipation often ourselves. However, Jesus knew that for them to be effective in building the Kingdom of God, the Holy Spirit was necessary. That is no different for us today. We receive the Holy Spirit often, including every time we receive the Eucharist. Nevertheless, for us to be effective Disciples of Christ, we must allow the Holy Spirit to work through us.
Christ’s Ascension presents us with this reminder — that we are called to lives of discipleship and stewardship, but that sometimes being able to fulfill that requires patience and determination. Nevertheless, Christ’s Ascension represents a fulfillment that each of us must realize and recognize.
Our Second Reading is drawn from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and in it Paul reminds us of the importance of being filled with the Holy Spirit as well. When 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,” Paul is really trying to make clear that one of the most important things we can do is gain knowledge of God. Our entire lives should be centered around that purpose in order to know God as He is in truth, as revealed by His Word. In addition to having knowledge of Who God is, we must also have knowledge of who we are as well. Knowing God is first, of course, but knowing ourselves follows that closely.
St. Paul also says in this reading, “May the eyes of your heart be enlightened.” To Paul the word “heart” signified the very core and center of life. Paul wishes the Ephesians to know, and us as well, that few things in life provide us with more hope than knowing that God has called us personally, and knowing what specific calling we have to fulfill. That is a lifelong challenge for us; it is a stewardship challenge — to not just know we are called, but to know how to respond to that calling.
Our Gospel Reading is indeed the final verses of Luke’s Gospel, as indicated above, which tell of Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven. It is reported that Jesus’ final act was “He raised his hands and blessed them. As He blessed them, He parted from them and was taken up to Heaven.” When Jesus blessed His Apostles, He blessed us also. Jesus left His earthly existence blessing His Church, and He continues to bless us. When Jesus blesses us, He gives us power and strength. We need to acknowledge that blessing, and we must do everything we can to transmit it to others.