Ascension, Cycle A
Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Mt 28:16-20.
1/ First Reading: NAB Acts 1:1 In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught 2 until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; 5 for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the holy Spirit.” 6 When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. 8 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.” 9 When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. 10 While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
2/ Second Reading: NAB Ephesians 1:17 The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. 18 May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, 20 which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, 21 far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.
3/ Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20 16 The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. 18 Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
I. THEME: Jesus ascends into heaven.
There are at least two main things we need to study in the feast of Ascension. Firstly, how can we understand the fact that Jesus ascends into heaven: Is it meant that Jesus shall be separated from us? Does he bring with him the human nature into heaven? Where is the heaven? What shall we do in heaven? Secondly, the importance of preaching the Gospel: Why does Jesus give his apostles and the Church the mission of bringing the salvation to all through the preaching of the Gospel?
Today readings center on the the event of the Ascension and the mission which Jesus handed over for his disciples. In the first reading, St. Matthew reported two events: Jesus ascends into heaven and gives his disciples the mission of preaching the Gospel to all people. In the second reading, St. Paul prayed for the Ephesisans so that they might have a spirit of wisdom to understand God’s mystery of salvation, achieved by Christ. In the Gospel, Jesus commanded his disciples to go out and to preach the Gospel. He shall give them all necessary powers to help people to believe in their preachings. By believing in Christ, people shall inherit the salvation which Jesus acquired for them through his Passion, Death and Resurrection.
1/ Reading I: Jesus did and taught his disciples until the day he was taken up.
God knew everything that happened and He correspondingly prepares to bring out a desired result. He sent His son, Jesus, to die for people’s sins and to achieve the salvation for them. Now, He wants to use Jesus’ disciples to bring this salvation for all people because He can’t save people without their consent. In order for people to believe in Jesus’ preachers, He empowers them with the Holy Spirit so that they might have wisdom to understand all the truth and zeal to preach them. The introduction of the Acts outlines this process as follows.
1.1/ Jesus confirmed his disciples’ faith during forty days after the resurrection.
Based on Luke 1:1-4 and today passage, we have a proof to verify that the Gospel according to Luke and the Acts have the same author, who briefly reported Jesus’ words and deeds as follows: “In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak.”
Before the Passion, Jesus taught his apostles whom he had chosen with the Father’s and the Holy Spirit’s help. After the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to his apostles many times during his forty days on earth to let them know that he is still living after his death and talks with them about God’s plan of salvation for humankind.
1.2/ Jesus repeated his promise to send the Holy Spirit: Before the Passion, Jesus promised to his apostles that he shall not leave them desolate, but ask the Father to send another one, the Paraclete, to remain and to act in them (Cf. Jn 14 and 16). Today passage repeats that promise and reminds the apostle to remain in Jerusalem to receive the Holy Spirit, “for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the holy Spirit.”
John’s baptism is the baptism with water for repentance. All of the apostles are Jews so they probably were received this baptism as John Baptist often did (Jn 1:26); but there is another baptism by the Holy Spirit to forgive sins and to sanctify people which John mentioned and Jesus was received (Jn 1:32-33). Jesus promised that his apostles shall receive this baptism on the Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, ten days after he ascended to heaven.
The apostles misunderstood Jesus’ words to them when they asked, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They were still thinking about a powerful Messiah who shall restore the kingdom of Israel and when they receive the Holy Spirit, they shall become leaders to govern with Christ! Jesus explained for them that the purpose of receiving the Holy Spirit is for them to preach the Gospel and to be witnesses for him in all places so that people might believe and receive the salvation. When he shall govern all people is depend on the Father’s authority and time. This also depends on the human co-operation in making God’s kingdom to come by helping all people to believe in Christ.
1.3/ Jesus ascends to heaven: “When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.” In the Gospel, Luke also mentioned the Ascension event in the last verses (Lk 24:50-51) and the apostles’ joy (Lk 24:52-53). How can we understand the meaning of Jesus’ ascension?
(1) On this day, Jesus officially ends his earthly mission to go back to his Father and to seat next to his Father to intercede for human beings. It is also the beginning of the Holy Spirit’s reign. In order for his apostles to know that, Jesus has to give them a sign so they know he returns to the Father; and there is no proper sign than going up to heaven according to the tradition.
(2) Jesus went up to heaven isn’t meant that he shall be separated from his disciples; it is only meant from now on, he isn’t limited by time and space. He is always present everywhere and in every generation in the sacrament of the Eucharist and our prayers. Moreover, Jesus revealed that the Trinity never separate from each other even the present period is the Holy Spirit’s reign in men. Whoever has the Holy Spirit, that one also has the Father and the son.
(3) According to Pope John Paul II, the heaven isn’t a place hidden behind the sky; but a glorious and eternal state by the complete union between God and men. If understanding so, the heaven is already stated from this life, but doesn’t reach the complete level of the beatific vision yet, when one shall see God as He is.
(4) Jesus shall come the second time to judge the living and the dead: The author of Acts reported, “While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.””
2/ Reading II: Paul prayed for the faithful to have the Holy Spirit.
2.1/ God’s most important revelation: It is God’s plan of salvation which is achieved by Christ.
All people commit sins and the result of sins is death. To save people from death and to recover life, God gave people His son. By Christ’s death and resurrection, people receive salvation which means to live happily with God forever. There are three things that the author prayed for his faithful to understand:
(1) “What is the hope that belongs to his call”: This hope is the eternal life which Jesus achieved through his death and resurrection. If the faithful believe in Christ, they hope to live forever with God who always calls and gives them opportunities to know Christ.
(2) “What are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones”: Together with the hope to be lived forever, the faithful also enjoy happiness, joy and free from suffering. The saints (also called the holy ones) are already enjoyed all these; they are the witnesses of our hope.
(3) “What is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens.” Through Christ, God is victorious over all powers of the devil and the world. He destroyed death and brings eternal life for human beings.
2.2/ God’s power is manifested in Christ.
(1) Christ is God’s wisdom and power: The author said, “He worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come.” The Letter to the Phillipians also described the same way about Christ’s power and his name (Phi 2:10-11).
(2) Christ established the Church to continue his mission on earth: The author wrote, “And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.”
Christ needs the Church to bring his salvation to all. There is a conversation between Jesus and the archangel Gabriel when he ascended to heaven. Gabriel asked Jesus, “Do people know how much you love and the works you has done for them?” Jesus answered, “They don’t know yet, but they shall know through my disciples.” Continues Gabriel, “What happens if your disciples are so tired, or the next generation shall forget, or there is no more preachers?” Answered back Jesus, “I hope they shall not do so.”
3/ Gospel: Jesus bestows on his disciples the mission of preaching the Gospel.
3.1/ The importance of the preaching of the Gospel: Christ foreknew that his disciples shall replace him in preaching of the Gospel to the entire world. Now, before ascending into heaven, he solemnly hands over that mission to his disciples. Jesus revealed to them many things; some of the things which Jesus reminds them today are the core of the Gospel. Firstly, Jesus must undergo sufferings, but he resurrected from death on the third day. Secondly, he went through suffering and death to take away people’s sins. If they repent and believe in him, their sins shall be forgiven and they shall receive salvation.
3.2/ Why are the apostles joyful? Usually, the apostles shall be sad when Jesus leaves them; but Luke reported the opposite, “They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.” There are at least two reasons for their great joy:
(1) They hope that they shall be reunited with him in heaven: What Jesus promised anything to his disciples, they let them see it. The hope to go up to heaven is the ultimate goal of the human life. If they clearly saw God went up to heaven, they have no doubt about this hope. They know for sure that they shall also be ascended and live with him forever.
(2) They are going to possess the Holy Spirit’s power: Jesus promised to give the Holy Spirit for his disciples before the Passion, and clearly explained for them about the Holy Spirit’s important role (Jn 14:16-17; 16:7-9). Now Jesus reminds them of that promise and tells them that thing is going to happen. There is nothing more joyful than knowing that they shall receive a precious gift from heaven which empowers them to recognize all the truth and to be victorious over all powers of the devil and the world.
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– Jesus is the head who went up to heaven; we are members of his body, the Church, shall also follow him. This is our sure hope.
– Jesus believes that we shall never forget the mission which he gave to us, the mission of preaching the Gospel. We must find all possible ways to help people to believe in him; at the same time, we must also train eager preachers to continue to preach the Gospel for future generation.
– Jesus’ ascension to heaven isn’t meant that he shall be absent in our life; but once he is no longer depended on a human body, he shall present with all of us in all places and at all times.