16 May 2010


16 MAY 2010. Today in our diocese, and in most the United States, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. On this day, the seventh Sunday of the Easter season, the Church commemorates Christ's bodily ascension into heaven so that he could continue to give of Himself to us through the sending of the Holy Spirit, which we will celebrate at Pentecost.

Today's readings are found here. For this Sunday's meditation, though, I propose to take a close look at the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles:
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit."

So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?" He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jersualem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth." And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."
(Acts, 1, 1-11 RSV-CE)

While today's solemnity is a celebration in itself--the Church celebrates Christ' bodily ascension into heaven, and we express our hope in Him that all believers will one day share this vision of a bodily resurrection and presence in heaven, where we will join the Saints in praising the lord--the Ascension also points expressly to next Sunday's celebration of Pentecost. In fact, as we learn, without the Ascension, Pentecost is not possible (Jn 16, 7) and without Pentecost we would not have the Holy Spirit as an active spiritual agent--"the Advocate" (Id.)-- in our world today. So, the Ascension--Christ bodily leaving the world--is necessary for God to continue to pour out his generous love on us in the gift of the Holy Spirit.

How glorious and unlimited are the continuing gifts of the Lord for us! Even the first words of the passage from Acts tells us that Christ's ministry on earth was only what He "began to do" (Acts 1, 1 RSV-CE). Thus, we understand that the Ascension is a continuation of His saving work for us, which is continued today through the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, and which will be completed when He comes again.

For our benefit, then, the Ascension is a glimpse "into heaven" (Acts 1, 11 RSV-CE) that we, followers of Christ, are given to help us have hope and trust in Him. Just as the Lord ascended bodily into heaven to forever experience the glory of that eternal life, so too are each of us given the opportunity to be raised bodily with Him when He comes again by His salvific love for all humanity. And--in another glimpse--the angels tell us that Christ will return just as He went into heaven--to complete His work for our salvation.

At the same time, as well, the Apostles questioned Jesus, at His ascension, about the timing of the restoration of Israel. Remember, the Jewish people were, and still are, waiting for a messiah that will restore Israel and the Temple to its rightful place at the forefront of the world. In the Apostles' questions, we see that they are still struggling to answer the question: "What comes next?" So, Christ tells them that none of us knows when the kingdom of heaven will be restored on earth, but that the Apostles--and all of us too who have some share in being followers of Christ in the Apostolic tradition--will receive power from the Holy Spirit who will come upon them. And, by that power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus proclaims that they--and through them, we--will become His witnesses unto the ends of the earth.

Today, the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is indeed the witness of Christ to the ends of the earth. Praise God for the gift of the Holy Spirit that guides the Church and for the ongoing work of salvation in the world through the Holy Spirit. As each of receives a glimpse of heaven in the Ascension of our Lord, so too may each of us come to serve the Lord through the Church with a sincerity of purpose and humility of heart that comes only from opening ourselves and acknowledging our total reliance on our Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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