Feast of the Ascension (Ascension Sunday) – Bible Readings for Mass: I: Acts 1:1-11; Responsorial: Psalm 47; II: Ephesians 1:17-25; Gospel: Mark 16: 15-20
The Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ is a Biblical event of profound importance. The Church recognizes this with the Solemnity of the Ascension celebrated forty days after Easter on a Thursday. It may also be celebrated the Sunday after those forty days on Ascension Sunday. For some this variation of the day is of concern as they may believe to celebrate the holy event when it occurred is more important than what may be deemed more practical by others. It is rather ironic as when our Lord ascended to return to His Father He ascended far above temporal schedules or concerns of time as we know it. The celebration of the heavenly homecoming of Jesus is truly an event that has infinite and eternal significance. It is an affirmation of glory and joy in Christ. For He completes the incarnation mission of holy love and returns to the Father for a distinct reunion of the Holy Trinity. He ascends His heavenly throne alongside God the Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit in the Victor’s reign. And Christ establishes the purpose of His people to be witnesses of His redeeming mercy and power. We are reminded, like the refrain from our Responsorial Psalm acclaims: “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.”
The Ascension, the return, of Jesus to His heavenly glory is a truth we must never take for granted. His incarnation, to be born of a woman, in a stable, was done to reach creation, to reach us, in mercy and love. For Jesus the Son to lay aside His heavenly glory to bear our humanity was to allow a break never before (or since) done by God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To take upon His holy Self, all our sins resulted in a break from the Father and Holy Spirit. With His death the penalty of our sins was executed. With His resurrection the sinless power of His love conquered the sins of the world and death. And with His ascension the return of Jesus to the heart of His Father, in the arms of the Holy Spirit was accomplished. God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit would not, could not be broken by evil. The divisions and strife sought by Satan are conquered as we confess and affirm in the concluding Doxology from Mass: “Through him, and with him, and in him O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever. Amen.”
The celebration of Jesus ascended and returned to heaven is also a clear proclamation of a truth often sung by the faithful but especially throughout the Easter season “ALLELUIA!” The Lord God reigns!. Our Scripture readings this Lord’s Day state with infinite clarity that Jesus is now seated with His Father and reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus, born in a stable, dying on a cross, has conquered evil, hate, sin and death through His resurrection, through His ascension. Jesus Reigns! This is so beautiful to believe, to sing, to proclaim. Until…… the defeated enemies of God and His Kingdom seek to pretend Jesus doesn’t reign. Or when we choose to listen to lies and place our faith in our worries, fears, and doubts and we seek to nudge Jesus from the throne of our hearts. Or are we like those disciples asking before our Lord Ascended, if NOW was when their political enemies (the Romans) would be conquered? It is SO TEMPTING to equate the Gospel and God’s Kingdom with our favored beliefs (whether they be political, religious, liturgical or social) and we try to make Jesus submit to our ignorance or fear. Mercifully may the the Holy Spirit remind us GOD is on the throne, not us! The saints of God learned, often through great trials, that whether facing a martyrs death, sickness, poverty or injustice Jesus reigns and will leads us through any sorrows. So often I observe that more faith is placed in Satan and the evils of the world (and of others) than in Christ our risen and ascended Savior and Lord. The Feast of the Ascension is a most distinct example of how our Shepherd King prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. And as we celebrate the homecoming of Jesus into the fullness of the Trinity, as we kneel before the King of Kings we are brought to be who Jesus redeemed and calls us to be…witnesses of His redeeming power and mercy.
As the disciples stared into the heavens the angels appeared to remind them of what Jesus had instructed. They (and we) are to be His witnesses, to proclaim the Gospel to every creature. The words from the Gospel of Mark are so important. Our lives are to proclaim Jesus, Lord, and Savior to all creation. Instead of the strife, divisions, cruelties, and sorrows of this world we are to witness the mercy and hope that is in Christ. Instead of petty kingdoms of self, control and greed we are to be God’s stewards of life in and through creation. In place of the arguments and accusations that so often infest churches big and small we remember it is not us who are reign…but Christ. Instead of words and deeds of judgment and rejection, we allow the same ascended Jesus who sought Peter and His other frightened disciples to be bridges of hope and mercy where together we could learn and grow in the infinite expressions of His holy love.
But it is an impossible plan, isn’t it? How, on earth, can we truly live out the love, the mercy and hope that is in Jesus? How are we ever to cease all the squabbles to which we seem addicted? How do we overcome the destructive greed that has destroyed so much of our environment? How do we live as the true witnesses of Christ who we believe reigns in heaven? We celebrate the answer next Sunday as, together, we seek the Holy Spirit to empower us for God.