Matthew 28:16-20, Solemnity of the Ascencion
The celebration of the Ascension leaves many a bit flat. It is clear what Good Friday does for us. And Easter Sunday’s benefits are indisputable. But as for the Ascension – “What’s in it for me?”, many ask.
Yes, what is the meaning of the “ascension” to heaven of the risen Christ? Is it a sad story of departure? The first reading seems to indicate this when it says that the apostles were ”looking intently at the sky as he was going.”
But the final sentence of today’s Gospel: “Behold, I am with you always until the end of ages” does not contain the words of someone who leaves his friends alone on earth. These last words of Jesus are not a farewell, but rather an explanation that he is the living Lord of an unlimited life and that every day he is present with his word and his comforting love, his Church and his Mystical Body until the fulfillment of time. His mission on earth is accomplished – and our mission began.
Let us have a brief look at the readings of today’s Solemnity.
In the First Reading the disciples are still confused and have doubts, even though they’ve seen that Jesus has risen from the dead. They were expecting, like all of Israel expected, one big event right away: they thought the Kingdom of Heaven would be coming, then and there. They were waiting for one last bang and for everyone to be in Heaven and evil to be ended.
They asked Jesus when it’s going to happen. Jesus answered: wait for the Holy Spirit to come. But they still didn’t get it, which is why the angels have to tell them to move on. When Jesus tells them it’s not for them to know the times or seasons, he’s teaching them what the event of the Holy Spirit is going to be like: unexpected and big.
In the Second Reading, St. Paul prays that we too receive this coming of the Holy Spirit when Christ arrives home. It will bestow on us wisdom and revelation, not just on the level of knowledge, but in our hearts as well. Paul describes well where Jesus is headed today: to his Father’s right hand, where he’ll be put in charge of all things and be above all other powers. It also says he is being given to us, the Church, as head over all things.
In the Gospel today, and for the rest of this week, we await the coming of the Holy Spirit who came to the Church on Pentecost, a feast which we will celebrate next Sunday.
The Holy Spirit fulfills the promise Jesus made in the Gospel today, that he would remain with us until the end of time. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that the bread and wine today in this Mass will become the Eucharist – the Body and Blood of Christ – and Jesus will stay with us in the Eucharist “until the end of the age” when he will return to bring us all home to Heaven.
Paul today describes the Son seated at the Father’s “right hand.” What does this mean?
The expression “right-hand man” refers to someone’s most trusted co-worker, the one who is directly involved in the practical matters of the undertaking at hand and second only to the boss he serves in the direction of the task at hand. The right-hand man doesn’t just execute orders. He has a great influence on the boss because the boss knows he is trustworthy and gets the job done.
Jesus ascends today and shows that he is the best right-hand man of all time. He got the job done. Through his Incarnation, Passion, death, and Resurrection he tried to be our right-hand man.
The two men dressed in white in today’s First Reading are asking us the same thing today that they asked the Apostles, “why are you standing there?” They were standing around and doing nothing. But a follower of Christ has to be active. We have plenty of grace to get to work, a very challenging work. – “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”
This task remains for us today. Pope John Paul II spoke of the necessity of what he called “new evangelization.” This is a task not only for priests and missionaries but for all who are baptized.
Last Friday, Pope Francis made it clear in his morning homily when he said, “The Christian’s place is in the world, in order to proclaim Jesus; but his gaze is turned to heaven in order to be united to Him.” Or we could put it this way: the Christian’s gaze is on heaven, but his feet on earth. We are supposed not to be of the world, but remain in the world to make it a better place.
Impossible? No. It’s difficult, very difficult, but in the vocabulary of Christ the word “impossible” does not exist. Be open to the power of the Holy Spirit, and the impossible becomes possible. That’s why the whole Church prays in these days from Ascension to Pentecost for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Let’s join the Church in this so necessary prayer and with the help of the Holy Spirit make the world around us at least a little better place.