The Ascension of the Lord

We, who have lost a loved one, know that their “spirit” often lives on long after their death. Certain situations will trigger our memory of them. Recalling what they said or did, we are inspired to live up to the legacy they have left us. In this way their presence continues through our words and actions.

We might well imagine the disciples overwhelming sense of grief and absence when Jesus ascended into heaven. As time will tell, Jesus’ absence will really mark the beginning of a new kind of presence. We, his followers, are commissioned to preach that suffering and death lead to new life and that forgiveness will be granted to all who seek forgiveness. His ascension is our commission because we are now His presence on earth.

His very absence calls us to be and do as Jesus. To put another’s needs above our own desires; to seek amends when forgiving another or letting go of grudges. And we don’t do this on our own, we are gifted with the very power of the Holy Spirit. Having experienced God’s saving action, we can be that saving action for others.

Adapted from Renew International, Prayer Time Cycle A

The Ascension of Jesus

Salvador Dali 1958

Most people know what it means to make a down payment – whether on a car or house. It’s a promissory payment suggesting that a purchaser intends to fulfill their obligation to pay off the debt incurred. The promised benefits may not be worth the price. Indeed, forces of temptation may be present that draw us into unwise investments. When it comes to the down payment that God makes with us, we can be assured, based on our understanding of God’s character, that God is able and willing to fulfill the promise made to us. In this case the Holy Spirit is God’s down payment on the promised inheritance, which is our ultimate destiny of sharing fully in the glory of God.

The down payment that God makes with us is lifted up in the story of Jesus’ ascension into the heavens, where he shares the fullness of God’s glory, while we receive the Holy Spirit as the down payment of our ultimate destiny – sharing together with Jesus in that glorious presence.

Jesus’ ascension, for us, is a gift and commissioning. We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. We preach and teach in his name. We don’t do this on our own, as Jesus promised. We can’t set out to take up Jesus’ mission to preach the Good News until we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s Presence with and among us. This ensures us that our work isn’t ours but Christ’s. Ultimately our mission is to preach not simply events but a Person—Jesus Christ, the risen One. Even more: with the Spirit, we are the Presence of the risen Lord. This clothing is unequaled. [Living Liturgy 2013]

Being faithful to this Gift is pure choice. We choose to be faithful when we continue the saving work of Jesus by repenting when we have hurt another, by forgiving those who hurt us, by clothing others with dignity and honor, by doing daily tasks joyfully, by acknowledging the Presence of God in the compliment of another. Continuing Jesus’ saving ministry happens in big ways and little ways. Having first experienced God’s saving action, we can be that saving action for others.

Adapted Renew International PRAYERTIME CYCLE C

The Ascension of The Lord

touchdownWhen a very fine school principal retires, we might overhear one of the teachers say, “It will be difficult for the school board to fill her shoes.” Or if a skilled and versatile worker dies of a heart attack, the boss might say, “It will be difficult to fill his shoes.” Filling the shoes of someone beloved, someone uniquely qualified, someone highly professional can be pretty daunting. Personalities definitely play a part. So, it’s not simply a matter of getting the work done; it’s also a matter of how the work gets done, which raises the question of relationship. The better one relates to others, the more difficult it is to fill that person’s shoes when he or she is gone. In this gospel, Jesus is taking his leave of the disciples. He commissions them to fill his shoes. My! Really?
We are not forced to proclaim the Gospel, nor do we do this on our own authority. We undertake our mission “through the Holy Spirit” (first reading) and manifest the Holy Spirit through our mission. But always the mission is Christ’s. At first this might seem an impossible commission: how can we expect to fill Jesus’ shoes? On our own authority we cannot. In addition to his commission to “proclaim the gospel,” Jesus also promised his disciples that signs would accompany their work attesting that Jesus remains with them.
What an awesome honor it is to be disciples of Christ—we fill his shoes! This mission describes our Christian living—preaching the Gospel. Ascension is a call to all the baptized, reminding us that baptism is far more than having original sin taken away; it is a receiving of the Spirit by which we are grafted onto the Body of Christ. Baptism is our Pentecost and it includes a mission. It initiates us into a way of life whereby we are of the Lord Jesus.
The gospel reminds us that the bearers of the Good News—those who continue Jesus’ saving mission today—are ordinary people. This would seem to be an overwhelming and impossible task. How can we fill Jesus’ shoes and continue the divine saving work? We can’t, on our own. But Jesus assured us that he would work with us. Always, the mission is Christ’s and we accomplish it by the strength and life of the Spirit who dwells in us who are baptized. It is the Spirit who works in us. This is why ordinary people can with enthusiasm, commitment, and love—and without question, fear, or hesitation—take up Jesus’ mission.

What Are We Going To Do?

ascension of jesusThe Ascension of Jesus into heaven is one of those strange Bible stories that Cecil B. De Mille would’ve enjoyed filming. Charlton Heston would play Jesus, of course. He would give the apostles some final instructions and then say with just the right touch of divine resonance, “STAY HERE IN THE CITY UNTIL YOU HAVE BEEN CLOTHED WITH POWER FROM ON HIGH.” Charlton/Jesus would take the next cloud to heaven in proper cinematic flourish. I picture it as an escalator-type effect, slow and lingering but with a decided trajectory, just the right light but without the stairs. Maybe some cherubim music, but clearly within the bounds of proper taste.

Finally, the camera cuts to an overhead shot of the apostles — dazed, mouths agape, like Gomer Pyle looking up at a skyscraper for the first time. Shazzam, he’s gone. Someone once playfully suggested that as Jesus departed into heaven, the disciples finally saw the “sole” of Jesus. S-o-l-e, the bottoms of his shoes. Anyway, they all stood there looking up as if visiting Cape Canaveral for an Apollo space shot. “Now what?” we can almost hear them all say. “Our leader is gone. Now what?”

The Ascension of Jesus is a great story. Like the parting of the Red Sea, or the sling-shooting of Goliath by David, or the feeding of the 5,000, you can see the Ascension in your mind. You can use your imagination and fill in the details. The disciples are in the shadows looking like they want to grab Jesus’ feet and keep him on earth (like trying to tether an escaping hot air balloon).. There’s a devilish little angel over in the corner who’s making a face directly into the gaze of the viewer of the canvas as if to say, “We’ve got him up here now. You don’t. Now what are you going do?”

What are we going to do? We are now sent on mission to be his presence and to do his ministry. In essence, Jesus empowered the disciples and us to live a wholly new relationship with him, one that will be expressed in our daily living. We are the living presence of the risen Christ in our world today.