READINGS AND REFLECTION
Ascension of the Lord | 7th Sunday of Easter (May 24, 2020)
Acts 1:1-11 – Jesus was lifted up while they looked on
IN MY earlier work, Theophilus, I dealt with everything Jesus had done and taught from the beginning until the day he gave his instructions to the apostles he had chosen through the Holy Spirit, and was taken up to heaven. He had shown himself alive to them after his Passion by many demonstrations: for forty days he had continued to appear to them and tell them about the kingdom of God. When he had been at table with them, he had told them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for what the Father had promised. ‘It is’ he had said ‘what you have heard me speak about: John baptised with water but you, not many days from now, will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’
Now having met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, has the time come? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know times or dates that the Father has decided by his own authority, but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth.’
As he said this he was lifted up while they looked on, and a cloud took him from their sight. They were still staring into the sky when suddenly two men in white were standing near them and they said, ‘Why are you men from Galilee standing here looking into the sky? Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, this same Jesus will come back in the same way as you have seen him go there.’
Ephesians 1:17-23 – God made him sit at his right hand in heaven
MAY THE God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and perception of what is revealed, to bring you to full knowledge of him. May he enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you, what rich glories he has promised the saints will inherit and how infinitely great is the power that he has exercised for us believers. This you can tell from the strength of his power at work in Christ, when he used it to raise him from the dead and to make him sit at his right hand, in heaven, far above every Sovereignty, Authority, Power, or Domination, or any other name that can be named not only in this age but also in the age to come. He has put all things under his feet and made him, as the ruler of everything, the head of the Church; which is his body, the fullness of him who fills the whole creation.
Matthew 28:16-20 – Go and make disciples of all nations
THE ELEVEN disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them. When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated. Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’
“He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty” (Apostles’ Creed)
A BLESSED and Joyous Ascension to all, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia! Today we truly rejoice to celebrate a decisive event in the history of OUR salvation. It is the physical departure of Jesus from this earth, the crowning completion of the mission of the Word made flesh.
In our daily reflection, we have noted several times that the eternal Word in the Flesh could only have one span of life on earth. And Jesus had a brief span of just 33 years. He had to leave us. But because our Lord and Saviour has ascended into heaven, we too, after our very short life on earth, will also be taken up to heaven our eternal Home. It is the Ascension of the Lord and our Ascension!
After the resurrection, the Lord stayed on for 40 days, teaching and encouraging His disciples in an irresistible form, in His Risen Body. Traditionally, Ascension is celebrated on the 40th day from Easter Sunday, a Thursday. Symbolically, ‘40’ in the Scriptures always means preparation and passage, a period of trial to accomplish a saving purpose. We know for example, the Israelites were tested for 40 years in the wilderness before entering into the Promised Land; Jesus fasted for 40 days in the desert, tempted by the devil before He began His public ministry.
‘Wait for the Holy Spirit’
The first reading tells us that the Risen Lord continued to appear to His disciples to tell them about the kingdom of God. Incredibly, the disciples still show their ignorance of the “kingdom” and continue to ask questions. Jesus refuses to answer them and simply tells them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the Holy Spirit to come on them, and then they would be empowered to understand and become His witnesses beginning from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.
At the Ascension, as the disciples were fixated looking at the Risen Lord being lifted up to heaven and disappearing into the clouds, they were told that Jesus would come back in the same way they saw Him going up (at the end of time).
Being in Year A, our gospel reading is from St. Matthew. Matthew tells us that when the 11 apostles met the Risen Lord on the mountain of the Ascension as arranged by Jesus, they fell down before Him (in worship). But some hesitated! We can be sure that those who hesitated were the same ones who had asked “Lord, has the time come? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Are we too still asking the same question and refusing to fall down before the Lord like these apostles on this day of the Ascension?
Matthew does not give an account of the Ascension itself but focuses and magnifies the Great Commission Jesus gives to the apostles at that momentous moment of His leaving the earth, to “Go… make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you”.
Jesus hands over the work of the Kingdom
This is no casual instruction. It is the solemn Commission issuing from the absolute authority of Christ, the Risen One: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” With absolute authority, therefore, Jesus now hands over the work of the Kingdom to the apostles who would soon be born as Church by the Holy Spirit to carry out the Great Commission of baptizing and teaching the Way of the Lord.
And finally, exercising absolute authority again as the Risen One, Jesus assures us that He will be with us as we carry out the great mission: “And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.” Experiencing the reality and powerful presence of the Risen Christ in the Holy Spirit for over 2,000 years, the Church has persevered unflinchingly in Her Mission despite persecutions or being opposed again and again by unbelief and disdain.
In the second reading, St. Paul prays that God may give the Ephesians the spirit of wisdom and come to the full knowledge of Christ. With that knowledge, like the Ephesians, we too can see what “hope his call holds…what rich glories he has promised the saints … and how infinitely great is the power that he has exercised for us believers”. He refers to the same power of God who “used it to raise him from the dead and to make him sit at his right hand, in heaven, far above every Sovereignty, Authority, Power, or Domination, or any other name that can be named not only in this age but also in the age to come.” The Almighty Power who accepted Jesus’ suffering and death, is the same Power who raised Him, and now has glorified Him to reign over all creation. And… we share in this almighty reign of Christ. What fulness of life!
God who has put all things under the feet of Jesus has also made Christ the “head of the Church which is His Body”. If Christ the Head has ascended into heaven, we the members of His Body certainly will follow, for He is the Vine and we the branches grafted to Him, living members of His Body. The Collect (Opening Prayer) today puts this Mystery beautifully: “…where the Head has gone before in glory, the Body is called to follow in hope.”
Amen! Let it be! For you and I.