This Sunday the Church in the United States celebrates the feast of the Ascension in place of the 7th Sunday of Easter. Traditionally a Holy Day of Obligation, we celebrate the moment when Jesus, after the Resurrection, is taken up to Heaven. Our readings for this special day are the same for all three Lectionary Cycles.
The Word for the Ascension of the Lord
Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Our first reading comes from the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, where the opening act is the Ascension of Jesus. This is a far more dramatic (and detailed) version than where Luke leaves us at the end his Gospel (Chapter 24), but like many great sequels, the opening moments recap the story thus far (as a reminder of where we left off) in order to set the stage for the narrative moving forward. It is interesting to note that the event of the Ascension is noted only briefly at the end of Luke and Mark, while Matthew and John don’t even mention it. It is also interesting to note that the traditional 40 days Jesus spent on Earth after the resurrection only occurs in Acts; that Biblical 40 days meaning “when the time was fulfilled”. This is a momentous occasion, the joy of which is echoed by our Psalm.
For our second reading we leave behind our study of 1st Peter to hear from the opening verses of St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians. Since this is just the opening of the letter, we haven’t gotten yet to the meat of his message to the Church in Ephesus, but he does give us a good visual of the risen and ascended Jesus, which supports our theme of the Ascension. It is also a message of hope, a theme that we've been exploring all through the Easter season.
Our Gospel then takes us back to our current Cycle A and the conclusion of Mathew’s Gospel. As previously noted, Matthew does not conclude his Gospel with the Ascension, but rather, takes this time to give us one last theological lesson... that “I am with you always until the end of the age.” While the message is important, for Matthew's followers, the location - the mountain - is also important, giving us one last opportunity to see Jesus as the new Moses.
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