Lectionary 058, Gospel: LK 24:46-53
On the Feast of the Ascension the Church rejoices and at the same time orients itself afresh in the face of an enormous challenge. We rejoice because the Ascension is the moment when the earthly ministry of the risen Lord Jesus is brought to completion and his victory over sin and death, established definitively through the resurrection, is publicly confirmed. We also are given pause however, since by the very event of his exaltation to heaven he is physically taken from us and is no longer to be seen or heard, and thus our challenge begins.
On the one hand the glorification of Christ through his Ascension assured the early Christians that the one in whom they had placed their faith, and whom they had seen suffer and die, was indeed the long-awaited messiah and redeemer. On the other hand it left them bereft of the personal guidance and strength of Jesus as they took up the mission he entrusted to them: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). But our Lord’s presence to the disciples and to us did not cease altogether with the moment of the Ascension; he promised that he would send the Holy Spirit upon his followers to provide them with every gift needed for the work of ministry. After all, immediately before announcing that the disciples would be his messengers to bring the good news “to the ends of the earth” the Lord had told them: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:7).
It is through this promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit that Jesus guaranteed his first followers as well as Christians of every successive era that he would abide with them and with us always, even though he is physically absent. We now await this promise as we look ahead to the celebration of Pentecost in ten days’ time.
The Ascension is therefore a celebration that first gives us the assurance that Christ accomplished all that the Father had willed for us and for our salvation, and then it gives us the courage we need to go forth and carry this wonderful proclamation “to all the nations”.
Taking up the task of sharing the good news requires continual conversion on the part of every Christian, and that is exactly what Jesus commands his disciples when he told them: “…that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). Before we can answer the call to the new life we celebrate at the Ascension we must turn over the whole fabric of our lives to the risen Christ in a movement of repentance and renewal.
Energized by the forgiveness of sins that our Lord announces today and given a solemn commission to share the good news, we are pushed out the doors of the Church after the Ascension day mass, anticipating the renewal of the Spirit’s gifts within us and then taking to our heels to begin “preaching” the gospel by living it, using words when needed. As he was raised up Jesus said to his disciples: “You are witnesses of these things. And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:48). Let it be our prayer that the hope we have on account of Christ’s resurrection and ascension is matched by our efforts to live in the light of the Spirit’s renewing power, witnessing all the while to the one who calls us to share in his glory.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.