Part of the Creed which we profess every Sunday and other days of solemnities: “He ascended into heaven” is what we celebrate today. But then, why does the Catholic Church give more attention to a single act done by Jesus (ascension), since he has conquered death and redeemed us by his death and resurrection?
Christ’s Ascension was the culmination of God’s divine plan for Christ Jesus – his return to his Father with his “Mission Accomplished.” Ascension is the grand finale of all his words and of the works He has done for us and for our salvation. It is a culmination, but not the conclusion. It is a new beginning. It is an act that brings hope to humanity and great yearning for our heavenly homeland. This is what Jürgen Moltmann expresses. Moltmann understands the Christian faith as essentially hope for the future of human beings promised by resurrected Christ. Thus, for him, it is an attitude of expectancy that underlies all of faith.
The ascension brings about a paradoxical insight: Christ ascending to the Father, and remaining with us at the same time, till the end of times. What we celebrate today is Jesus’ exaltation and the end of his earthly existence, as a prelude to the gift of the Spirit. The ascended Jesus is still with us because of his promise, “I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”
The readings of today give more meaning to this feast. In the first reading (Acts 1: 1-11), Luke gives an account of the event of the Ascension as recorded in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. First, Jesus instructed his apostles to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the baptism by the Holy Spirit so that they might become his “witnesses to the ends of the earth” by the power of the Holy Spirit. Then a cloud took Jesus from the sight of the disciples and two heavenly messengers in white garments gave them the assurance of Jesus’ return in glory. The Psalm response, “God goes up with shouts of joy: he ascends with trumpets’ blast”. This celebrates God’s universal kingship. The Psalm was originally sung in connection with a cultic procession honouring the Ark of the Covenant.
By his Ascension, the risen Lord (the New Covenant) likewise “mounts his throne” in glory. The message continues in the second reading in a more dynamic way. (cf. Eph 1: 17-23; alternate Hebrews 9: 24-28; 10: 19-23): In Ephesians, Paul explains the theological meaning of Jesus’ exaltation by saying, “May God enlighten the eyes of our hearts so that we may know the great hope to which we have been called.”
Our great hope is that one day we too will be ascending to heavenly glory, provided that, with His grace, we live out our faith in Him through the mission of loving service He entrusts to us.
The Ascension is most closely related, in meaning, to the mystery of the Incarnation. In Jesus, the human and the divine become united in the person and life of one man; that’s Incarnation. At the Ascension, this human being – the resurrected body of Jesus – became for all eternity a part of who God is. It was not the spirit of Jesus or the divine nature of Jesus that ascended to the Father. It was the resurrected body of Jesus: a body that the disciples had touched, a body that had eaten and drunk with them both before and after His Resurrection, a real, physical, but gloriously restored body, bearing the marks of nails and a spear. This is what ascended. This is what, now and forever, is a living, participating part of God.
What message does the ascension bring to our doorstep? “Preach the good news and be my witnesses”. We need to be proclaimers and evangelists In today’s gospel, Jesus gives his mission to all the believers: “Go out to the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” This mission is not given to a select few but to all believers. To be a Christian is to be a proclaimer and an evangelist. There is a difference between preaching and proclaiming. “We preach with words but we proclaim with our lives.” As we celebrate the Lord’s return to His Father in heaven – His Ascension — we are being commissioned to go forth and proclaim the Gospel of life and love, of hope and peace, by the witness of our lives. On this day of hope, encouragement and commissioning, let us renew our commitment of being true disciples everywhere we go.
Dear friends in Christ, a few days from now, we shall commemorate the outpour of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the Apostles, upon the church, upon our families, and upon each and every one of us. By the Holy Spirit, we become enlivened, and our actions become animated in a new way, making us “Christs” in the world. We pray and ask the Holy Spirit to continually enlighten our minds and hearts to see what hope his call hold for us and live out the message of the ascension.
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Fatima, Vila Sabrina, São Paulo, Brazil
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