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Redwood Journal

Writings by Harry Martin, Permanent Deacon.

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Ascension of Jesus Christ

The Ascension of Jesus and Worldly Realities

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

The Ascension

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.

The Ascension of our Lord Jesus ~ His Last Earthly Words

God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord!

Today, Thursday, 21 May, is the Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. For us Catholics it is a Holy Day of Obligation. But, of course, in these unusual times we are unable to gather for Mass. What for some would be seen just as a day of obligation is, for many a day of holy love and opportunity. Perhaps, more so, in these times to gather, celebrate and worship our Lord is indeed a gift and grace we cherish, and miss.

Although we are unable to gather for Mass and receive the sacred Body and Blood of our Lord it is also a very special time to realize the holy opportunities we have and are called to share. It is a very unique and powerful season to grow in our listening to Jesus, the Logos, the Word of God. And on this holy day we are able to hear the last words Jesus spoke to His disciples just before He ascended into the clouds to take His throne next to His Father.

On this extraordinaryAscension day it is important and beautiful to realize what occurred as Jesus rejoined His Father. In the incarnation Jesus laid aside His celestial place with His Father to take upon Himself our humanity. Clothed in the realities of our flesh, blood and human struggles Jesus, for thirty plus years, would endure a separation of sorts from His Father. It is on this joyous day God, who Is Love, is fully reunited for all of eternity. The celebration of God and His holy angels would be beyond our earthly imaginings!

Yet as we recognize the holy, heavenly event we are brought back to earth to remember what was on the Sacred Heart of Jesus before He went home. Gathered with His followers they sensed something was going to be happening. Their hearts were still seeking to understand and relate to the brutal passion and resurrection of their Lord. They would still be wrestling with their own fears of persecution and these changes in their faith. So it is on the mountain top Jesus gathers His disciples. They are still holding on to their shallow understanding of the dimensions and power of the Kingdom of Jesus. They ask Jesus when that Kingdom will be restored. Jesus in patient love reminds them the times, seasons, the schedule of God is not for them to know. They only need to know…Him.

Jesus then goes on to once again affirm for the disciples of the promise, power and Presence of the coming Holy Spirit. Then He utters His last words:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The first chapter of the Book of Acts goes on to proclaim: “When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.” With those final words Jesus establishes the marching orders of holy love that will carry forth His work and Kingdom. The followers of Jesus, so awed by this extraordinary event are staring up into the clouds. It is then that two angels come and gently but powerfully shake the disciples back to their place and work at hand…to live for and witness the mercy, love and holy joy of the Kingdom of God. They then emphasize that as they saw Jesus ascend into the clouds, so He will return.

As we reflect and refocus on the words and will of Jesus this holy day of opportunity may we grow in our witness to the love and mercy of God in and through our lives. And may our prayer be:

MARANATHA! ~ “Come our Lord!”

As Jesus ascended so will He return! May we witness, in the power of the Holy Spirit, His grace and love.

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