Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

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.

Acts 1-1-11
Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Ephesians 1:17-23
Matthew 28:16-20

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 as we sing, “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.”

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 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.

Final thoughts:

Humor 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. 

I 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. 

Sometimes we 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!

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