ACTS 1:1-11, PS. 47:, EPH. 1:17-23, MATT. 28:16-20
There are three homily notes here for our prayers and meditation
Rev. Fr. Paul K. Oredipe
The Ascension of Jesus is often presented as a slow lifting of Jesus from the ground, like a rocket rising up and getting lost in the clouds. This is the imagination one gets from the gospel accounts. But then we must careful not to read these accounts as if they were a report of a concrete event. The author is not interested in describing an historical event. He makes use of expressions and images taken from the culture of his time to teach us some very important points about the person of Jesus and about the life of the Church.
Where is Heaven? : According to the Jewish belief there are three regions in the universe: the upper one, above the sky, supposed to be the abode of God: the earth, the abode of human beings; then the region inside the earth, the ‘sheol’ the abode of the dead.
But heaven is not a place to be located above or below. Heaven is where God is. Heaven is there where God can be seen and experienced in fullness.
In this sense, therefore, Ascension of Jesus has not been a rising up, but the final entry of Christ into the glory of God. Jesus did not remain, as his enemies wanted, a prisoner of death. He was the first to come through the ‘veil of the temple’ separating the world of men from the world of God and has shown that all that happens on earth: success or failures, injustice, suffering and even the most absurd of things, like those that happened to him, do not escape the plan of God. If such is the fate of every person, as it is the case, then death is not longer a frightening event, because Jesus has transformed it into a birth or entry in the life of God. For this reason we have to rejoice on this solemnity.
We have to rejoice because Jesus’ life on earth finished not with His death on the cross but with His ascension into heaven. It is the last of the mysteries of his life here on earth. It is a redemptive mystery which together with his passion, death and resurrection makes us the Paschal Mystery.
It was fitting that those who saw Christ die amid insults, scoffing and mockery on the cross should see him now exalted. They see fulfilled now the words Jesus spoke to them: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (John 20:17) And again: “Now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am ascending to thee” (John 17:11)
Concerning today’s solemnity St Leo the Great said: “Today we are not only made possessors of Paradise but with Christ we have ascended, mystically but also really, to the highest heavens and have won through Christ a grace more wonderful than the one we had lost.” (St Leo the Great, Homily I on the Ascension)
The Ascension strengthens and nourishes our hope of attaining heaven. It invites us always to lift up our heart, as the preface of the Mass says, and seek the things that are above. Our hope is very great because Christ himself has gone to prepare a dwelling place for us. He has secured for us an eternal and glorious inheritance in heaven, free from corruption, sin, death, pain and suffering.
In his own words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You trust in God, trust also in me. In my Father’s house there are many places to live in; otherwise I would have told you. I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you to myself, so that you may be with me where I am” (John 14:1 – 3). That is the ground of our joy: Jesus entered into glory and we too will join him.
We can see the Ascension as the closing chapter to Jesus’ physical presence in the world. Now He no longer appears in a bodily form, but He has by no means departed from them in his real being as God’s Son. It is also the opening chapter of his new and more powerful presence in the Church. For He promised: “I am with you always unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). We live ever in God’s presence and render him glory. Jesus is with us, with the Church. It is a real presence, not just figurative language. It is truth.
The Ascension is not an end, but a beginning, the beginning of a new manner of Christ’s presence and activity among the apostles and in us his Church, his body. The Preface of this solemnity expressed this fact so beautifully: “[He] has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us but to be our hope. Christ is the beginning, the head of the Church; where he has gone, we hope to follow.”
It is not so easy for us earthbound creatures to even come close to understanding the meaning of this new kind of presence of Jesus now maintains with us. Jesus has not gone to another place. Heaven, we said, is not a place. Jesus has not gone away from us, He is with us. What has changed is his way of being present, but his presence is no less real.
Before Easter He was conditioned by the limits of space and time that restrict us too. If He was in a place He could not be simultaneously in another one, if He was with some people, He was far from others, if He got tired He had to rest. But with his new presence these are no more; for him the limits bound up with life in this world are over, he is now in the glory of the Father and can be close to each person, always. Ascension has not diminished his presence and activity, quite the contrary, it has multiplied it!
Someone calls this Solemnity, the feast of the 3 P’s:
“God’s Power at work in Jesus.
Jesus Promise to share His power with us through this Spirit;
Jesus continued Presence with us through this same Spirit.”
Power; Promise and Presence.
As St Leo said: “Christ had not separated himself from his Father when he descended, and had not separated himself from his disciples when he ascended.” (St Leo the Great, Sermon 74, 3). We are sure that Jesus has never left us, we are certain that He is always with us, everyday, but we are also well aware of our frailties.
The difficulties of the mission entrusted to us are frightening. If we were to count only on our forces, we would have every good reason to be pessimists. But now we believe that Jesus has returned to the Father and has sent us His Spirit.
Here is another great reason to rejoice today. Whom should we fear if our communities have received the force of God? And if success is assured, why not rejoice? Rather than being sad and depressed or overwhelmed with the many problems, concerns, worries and anxieties which so often overtake us, why not turn to the Holy Spirit to widen your horizon and perspective, to open wide the eyes of your heart and expand your vision so that you can glimpse the life we share with our risen, ascended and glorified Lord. Invite the Holy Spirit to deepen your faith in the resurrection of the body, to heighten your understanding of the victory of the cross and to fill you with joy abounding and grace overflowing.
God who became man will never part from us: He is always with us. That is the mystery we celebrate today. Once the apostles experienced the living presence of the risen Christ they were overjoyed. It is written: “With great joy they returned to Jerusalem and remained long in the temple praising God.” (Luke 24:53) They were convinced that nothing could separate them from the Lord – no suffering, no enemy, no death, because the victory of the risen Lord has overcome all these.
Today’s solemnity, however, do not just end in rejoicing. Going back to the images used to describe the ascension of Jesus, we were told that the disciples were still starring into the sky when suddenly they received a message: “Why are you men from Galilee standing here looking into the sky? Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, this same Jesus will come back in the same way as you have seen him go there.” (Acts 1:11)
Like the apostles many of us Christians are still perplexed and partly saddened as at the departure of someone we love so much. The other day a group of students, after escorting the visitor and staying so long at the gate, had to return to their rooms. They went together in a group; their visitor in their midst. As they were now coming back, each of them went in different directions, their faces downcast. It is the same with most of us Christians. The angels told the apostles that it was now time for them to begin the task before them, that there was not a minute to be wasted. This is a message for us all as Christians and for us.
With the ascension Christ’s earthly mission comes to a close, and ours, as his disciples, begins. “What is left if mine, that of my fellowmen, that of your Church.” We too run the risk of looking on the solemnity of ascension with our eyes raised up to the sky. This is exactly the opposite of what we should do. It is a solemnity inviting us to look down to earth, to people among whom we are called to make present the work of the Master.
As the second reading reminds us, even though we must look down to earth, we know that human life is not enclosed and does not end within the narrow confines of this world. We still remain here on earth with our hearts and minds set on our homeland. We do not allow the attractions of this world to dim our vision of the glory to come. Rather with the vision of the glory to come, we set out on our mission with great faith, hope and love trusting not in our abilities or knowledge but in the power of God to save us.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Rev. Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
The Ascension of Jesus is the physical departure of Christ from Earth into the presence of God in Heaven. In the Christian tradition, reflected in the creed and confessional statements, God exalted Jesus after his death, raising Him as first of the dead, and taking Him to Heaven, where Jesus took his seat at the right hand of God. In Christian theology, the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus are the most important events, and a foundation of the Christian faith.
The ascension signaled the end of Christ earthly ministry. This gives us a definitive understanding that our business here on earth has an end. The ascension signified success in His earthly work. All that He had come to do, He had accomplished and at the end he ascended. May we end well at the end of our sojourn here on earth may we not descend into the bottomless pit rather ascend into paradise.
The ascension symbolized His exaltation by the Father as recorded in the second reading. The One with whom the Father is well pleased (Matt.17:5) was received up in honor and given a name above all names (Phil. 2:9). The ascension allowed Him to prepare a place for us (John 14:2). It also indicated the beginning of His new work as High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16) and Mediator of the New Covenant (Heb 9:15). Thus for us, it was the beginning of our work here on earth and so he told them in the gospel, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nation…”. Beloved in Christ, let us not neglect our duty for anything less or something else.
The ascension sets the pattern for His return. When Jesus comes to set up the Kingdom, He will return just as He left-literally, bodily, and visibly in the clouds (Acts 1:11; Daniel 7:13-14; Rev.1:7). The Lord Jesus is in heaven. The Scriptures frequently picture Him at the right hand of the Father-a position of honor and authority and so in the gospel of today, Jesus says “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Christ is the Head of the Church the giver of spiritual gifts and the One who fills all in all.
Fr. Ephraim Itaman
I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things,
and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace You as if You were already there
and unite myself wholly to You.
Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.