Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Following the traditional calendar, the Solemnity of the Ascension falls on a Thursday… 40 days after the Resurrection, and 10 days before Pentecost.  But since the Ascension is such an important moment for us as Church, many diocese, including our own, have moved this celebration to this coming Sunday (in place of the 7th Sunday of Easter).  But regardless of when we celebrate it the readings are the same:

Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Ephesians 1:17-23 or Hebrews 9:24-28, 10:19-23
Luke 24:46-53

Our first reading is from the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles.  While it might be more appropriate that this reading should follow our Gospel reading for today (as it naturally follows after Luke’s Gospel), the book-end effect of these two readings remains intact, reminding us how this was a pivotal moment for the Church.  Like most sequels, our reading opens with a recap of where we left off at the end of Luke’s Gospel with the Ascension of Jesus.  Also like most sequels, this “recap” of the events also gives us more details than before, including the tradition of the Ascension coming 40 days after the Resurrection, and the 10 days after the Ascension before Pentecost.  Perhaps the best line in today’s passage comes at the end, when the two men in white garments say to the Apostles, "Why are you standing here looking at the sky?"  It’s an angelic reminder to stop standing there and get to the business at hand… to start spreading the Good News.

Our Psalm reflects the great joy the Apostles felt at the Ascension (which is described at the conclusion of Luke’s Gospel) as we sing, “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy:  a blare of trumpets for the Lord.”

Our second reading is from the opening greeting of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  As is typical for Paul’s greetings, he presents us with the reason why we are all gathered:  Christ.  Not just Jesus the Rabbi, but the Christ, raised from the dead and sitting at the right hand of the Father.  Here Paul’s poetic imagery is the perfect complement to our celebration of the Ascension of the Lord.

As we may remember, our journey through Cycle C of the Sunday Lectionary celebrates the Gospel of Luke… so fittingly this year’s celebration of the Ascension has us reading from the closing lines of that Gospel.  Here we have Jesus’ final words to his disciples, remember that they were witnesses to the fulfillment of God’s promise, and to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.  After this he leads them out as far as Bethany, blesses them, and departs, whereupon the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy.

Final thoughts:
Most weeks when we review our Sunday readings we have to spend some time sorting through the meaning of those readings… digging into the details to find the lessons we are meant to learn.  When it comes to our solemnities, however, as with today’s celebration of the Ascension of the Lord, there isn’t a lot of unpacking we have to do.  Here we are just presented with the moment as chronicled in Scripture.  Yet it is these moments we find hardest to believe.  They shatter our perspective of reason.  It’s moments like these where I feel very much like the Apostle Thomas.  They seem so fantastic that I cannot help but to have some doubts… doubts that are fully supported my many in our modern culture.

Can we celebrate Christ without his Resurrection and Ascension?  We could, but then we would only be getting half the story.  Jesus the man was a great teacher and prophet, but he did much more than just teach us to love one another.  Jesus as the Christ also offered is life for our salvation and demonstrated God’s power over death.  His Resurrection and Ascension were an act of defiance over sin and death not just for himself, but for all humanity, for all time.  That is why Jesus lives.  That is why we believe.

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