May 8, 2016
Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
Please Note: In most dioceses in the United States, the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord is celebrated on the 7th Sunday after Easter. Therefore the focus here is for the gospel text of the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord.
46 And he [Jesus] said to them [disciples], "Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day 47 and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And (behold) I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."
50 Then he led them (out) as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. 51 As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. 52 They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and they were continually in the temple praising God.
Luke presents two accounts of the Ascension. One is today’s gospel text, and the other is the first verses of Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:1-11), which is the first reading for the Solemnity. In Acts, the Ascension story looks forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit, the missionary activity of the early Church to the ends of the earth, and the future establishment of the fullness of the reign of God.
The account of the Ascension in Luke’s gospel focuses on the Ascension being the culmination of Jesus’ ministry and departure. Jesus gives one last very short instruction to the disciples before he is taken up into heaven. He tells them that the core of his teaching and the events of his death and resurrection have all been predicted in the earlier writings of their tradition. By making only a general reference to the events of Jesus’ ministry and their tradition, Luke casts all of Jesus’ life and ministry in the light of the religious tradition of the people of Israel. Another way that Luke expresses that concept is by emphasizing the importance of the holy city, Jerusalem, and the small village of Bethany. Bethany is on the Mount of Olives, and the disciples return to Jerusalem and to the temple to praise God. These two places could have been associated with Jesus’ suffering and death. But now they are linked to Jesus’ ultimate glory. Jerusalem and the temple were the center of Jewish faith. The disciples entered the city not to hide behind locked doors, but to go into the temple praising God. The importance of Jerusalem is a constant theme throughout these verses.
Noticeably absent from the description of the ascension to heaven is any sign of cosmic reaction, angelic presence, or divine recognition of Jesus’ final return to take his place with his Father in heaven. The cosmic expression of what has happened is not to be found in heaven, but in God working in and among the disciples as they take the message of Jesus to all the nations. Next Sunday, the feast of Pentecost, the cosmic signs of God’s presence will begin to be manifested. For now, the disciples and the church are in a kind of in-between time, between the Resurrection and Jesus’ return with the fullness of God’s reign. But what is presented here is that the disciples experience the departure of Jesus through a lens of faith. They return from the Ascension filled with a great joy. They are continuously present in the temple praising God. The cosmic impact of what God is doing, which was part of other events of the gospels, is now present inwardly in the lives of the disciples.
1. Do you recall times in your life when someone that you, your family, or your team that you relied on was no longer available? What happened in the short term and in the long term?
2. When important people in your life have moved away or died, what are some of the things that you did to honor your relationships with those persons?
3. Jesus’ final departure from earth and from the disciples is described in two verses. What seems to be missing? What does this say to you about what is important to the early believers?
4. Jesus tells the disciples to stay in the city until they are clothed with power from on high. Why do you think he gave them that instruction? How might that same instruction apply to you and your spiritual journey?
5. Have you ever felt like you needed to go back to “Jerusalem” or the “Mount of Olives”?
6. What strikes you about the response of the disciples to Jesus’ Ascension?
7. What do you find comforting in this text? What do you find challenging?
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