This Thursday is traditionally celebrated as the Ascension of the Lord, marking 40 days since the Resurrection of the Lord with his Ascension to Heaven. Tradition then tells us that 10 days after this the Holy Spirit came to the Apostles which we celebrate at Pentecost Sunday next week. In the United States, however, and in other parts of the world, the bishops councils have moved this celebration of the Ascension to this coming Sunday, traditionally the 7th Sunday of Easter. Why was this Solemnity moved to Sunday? Because the reason for the celebration far outweighs the timing of the celebration. The Ascension of the Lord is a pivotal moment for the Apostles. Jesus, resurrected, is now leaving them, but he instructs them to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
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 as we sing, “God mounts his
throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.”
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 Matthew’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.
is not something we normally attribute to the Bible, but it is there is
you look. While a lot of the jokes tend to get lost just through
antiquity, there are those that get lost because a certain gravitas
has been placed on the “Sacred Scriptures” that wasn’t necessarily
there when they were written. Sometimes we need to allow ourselves to
see the absurdity of the moment not only to enjoy the joke, but so we
can see the deeper meaning the humor was meant to convey.
must confess, I have always found this week’s passage from Acts to be
one of the more humorous moments in all the New Testament. Here we see
the Apostles, standing in the middle of nowhere, staring up into the
clouds. Then these two guys come up and ask why they’re standing there
looking up in the sky? This is funny stuff! But sometimes we need the
absurdity of the moment to shake us into action.
treat our faith life like this moment with the Apostles. We’re
astonished and spiritually moved by the moment (like with the
Ascension), but then we find ourselves staring up in at the clouds, as
if we’ve been paralyzed by that moment. But here’s the thing… we aren’t
meant to be paralyzed by our faith because ours is a faith of action!
Just like at the end of Mass… filled with Christ and the wonder of the
Real Presence of the Eucharist, we’re not meant to drop to our knees in
awe and wonder, we’re told to “GO” and bring the Gospel to the world.
Sometimes we need to head these wiser angels and realize that we’re not
meant to be standing here, but instead, going back to town to give them
the good news!