Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
The feast of the resurrection of the Lord is the key to the Catholic faith. It is the resurrection of Jesus that provides us with hope to go beyond ourselves in terms of our relationships with God, self, neighbour and the cosmos. In short, the resurrection brought to the disciples a renewed enthusiasm and zeal to look past the passion and death of Jesus and look towards the fullness of life promised by Jesus. Even though the resurrection of Jesus and His appearance to the disciples turned their sorrow to joy and fear to courage, there are still two more events that would further define the lives of the disciples – the Ascension of the Lord and the Pentecost experience.
Forty days after the resurrection, Jesus and His disciples went to a mount, near Jerusalem. There, He promised His followers that they would soon receive the Holy Spirit, and He instructed them to remain in Jerusalem until the Spirit had come. Then Jesus blessed them, and as He gave the blessing, He began to ascend into heaven (cf. Luke 24:50-51 and Acts 1:9-11).
The Ascension of the Lord provides two key points for reflection: one being historical and the other being theological: firstly, from a historical or chronological perspective, the Ascension of Jesus to His Father marked the end of His earthly ministry. God the Father had lovingly sent His Son into the world at a certain point and place in history, and now the Son was returning to the Father. The period of human limitation was at an end; secondly, from a theological perspective, Jesus’ ascension prefigures our own. In the words of Saint Augustine, “Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him. Listen to the words of the Apostle: If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth. For just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies” From a sermon by Saint Augustine, bishop (Sermo de Ascensione Domini, Mai 98, 1-7: PLS 2, 429-495).
The historical and theological perspectives of the Ascension merge into another key point that provides a missiological impetus. For three years, the disciples had been with Jesus… following, observing, listening, and learning. The period of being an “apprentice” is over and now it’s time for them to take the reins, to continue the mission that Jesus had been sent to accomplish by His Father. What is this mission then? “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” … these were His parting words. The “Great Commission” as it is often called.
The handing on of the mission is in fact going to define the Church that is to come. Some Scripture scholars say that the Ascension of Jesus which is recorded right at the end of the gospel of Matthew, defines and gives meaning to the whole of the gospel and the mission of Jesus – from the incarnation to the resurrection. The solemnity that we celebrate today and the way we celebrate it does not in any way compare to the great solemnities of Christmas and Easter. However, this solemnity is of great importance because of the great commission that Jesus gives to his disciples and the way in which the Church is to grow.
Our celebration of this Solemnity is not just recalling an event that took place two thousand years ago but it is a celebration that should remind us of the very essence and nature of our faith. Jesus chose the disciples for a specific purpose – to not only be with him but to learn from him for the purpose of bringing what they have learnt and experienced to the world. By virtue of our very own baptism, we, like the disciples, have been chosen and called – chosen and called so that we can bring this Jesus to others. Ours is not a self-seeking or self-serving faith… it is not just for the salvation of the souls as how it was known before; rather our faith in Jesus must produce good works and the good works must flow from our imitation of Jesus.
Therefore, making disciples begins with the imitation of Christ and when we imitate Christ in thought, word and deed, we continue the mission of Jesus. Let our prayer today be, Lord Jesus, make me more like you so that I may participate in this mission that you have entrusted to me. Amen.