Solemnity of the Ascension ~ Sunday 29 May 2022 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Acts 7: 55-60; Responsorial: Psalm 97; II: Revelation 22: 12-14, 16-17, 20; Gospel: John 17: 20-26
Today we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Celebrated forty days after Easter it culminates the Easter season and anticipates the Feast of Pentecost. It may seem like a bridge of sorts between these two other great springtime events of our Christian faith. But it is so much more.
The Ascension is the earthly conclusion of the incarnational Presence and ministry of Jesus, Son of God, and Son of Man. It thus gives us a profound lesson and illustration of surmounting the often harsh realities of this world and our heavenly hope and home.
That we live in a world wounded and scarred by the realities of sin and evil we need no reminder. Our faith and families daily face challenges of health, economic distress, and news of violence and wars. We cannot afford to be so delusional as to pretend these realities do not exist. We humbly need to confront them and see these struggles with the faith, courage and hope deeply rooted in God and His mercy and forgiveness. It is precisely for this witness of our Christian hope and the redemptive love of God that the Holy Spirit has placed us in our days to live and proclaim.
It was on the day Jesus ascended that the struggling, fearful disciples were gathered by Christ. He reminded them that they (and us), were to be His witnesses throughout this troubled world. They did not realize or understand, as they watched in awe as He rose into the clouds returning to His heavenly home. They knew, intimately the sorrows and wounds of the world. The promise, power, and purpose of His ascension were just starting to be revealed. For them and for us. But the angels reminded the disciples that while they looked heavenward they were called to follow and serve God on their earthly journey.
Ascension Promise: With the physical ascension of the resurrected Jesus the promises of eternal mercy and our heavenly destination were affirmed. From and through the harsh storms of this world God promises to bring home all who will trust and seek to follow Jesus, crucified, risen, and ascended. The reading from the Book of Acts illustrates this point with poignant clarity. As Stephen is facing martyrdom for his faithful courage in sharing Christ his pained eyes were opened to see the reality beyond his being stoned. He saw the heavens opened and his Lord waiting for him. In that eternal truth, Stephen was able to see God’s promise and seek that those who were killing him would be forgiven. The Ascension experience of the promises and mercies of God was instrumental in the conversion of Stephen’s persecutor, Saul, and his subsequently becoming the Apostle to the Gentiles.
Ascension Power: The account of the martyrdom of Stephen illustrated the profound transformation of the disciples from a fearful band of confused souls trying so hard to figure out the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. It was the homecoming of Jesus into the full reunion and fullness of the Holy Trinity that enables the faithful followers of Christ to receive the promised Presence and gift of the Holy Spirit. This same Spirit in whom we are given the transubstantiation power of simple bread and wine into the real Body and Blood of Jesus in our liturgy is the Holy Spirit that will empower each disciple in their walk with God to our eternal home. Our witness, our mission may not be as dramatic or world-changing as some but in the designs of God, it is as vital and precious. Yet it is vital to remember that this promised power is not for our own egos, understandings, or designs. The Ascended Lord empowers us to glorify His Father as he did. The promise and power of God for our good and the work and glory of God’s Kingdom. The power of the Paraclete is for the purposes of God.
Ascension Purposes: It is especially in our Gospel reading from the seventeenth chapter of John that this intent of our Lord is made so clear. Jesus prays “…that they may be one, as you Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be one in us, THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE THAT YOU SENT ME.” Jesus prayed these words shortly before His betrayal and passion were to begin. Knowing fully in His heart what was going to be happening Christ was still resolute in trusting that His followers would … still follow Him. He knew full well their struggles and those of His Church since. But Jesus still prayed and trusts that we can be one and show the world His love and power.
As we conclude this Easter season, as we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus, and prepare for Pentecost we need to let God’s Word and Spirit show us the deep wounds in the Body of Christ. Wounds that are showing the world not God and the redemptive mercy that is offered but instead egos, agendas, politics, and obsessions with religious displays instead of Christ Lord of our lives. Much lament and soul-wringing are being shared about the sin and unbelief of so many. We wonder and cry “why won’t believe trust and follow Christ?” This question must recognize the battle for the human soul between God and the powers of darkness. But we also must recognize that we, as Christians are created and redeemed by God to proclaim that eternal love and mercy are found in Christ. We are called to proclaim in our words and our actions the Promises, Purposes, and Power provided by God. Christ is risen! Alleluia! Christ is ascended! Alleluia! Let us live simply and faithfully in God’s truth as we grow beyond the limited realities of this world.