Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Ascension of the Lord (C)

The Ascension of the Lord

Readings for The Ascension of the Lord[i][ii]

Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:

Reading 1 Acts 1:1-11

In the first book, Theophilus,
I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught
until the day he was taken up,
after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit
to the apostles whom he had chosen.
He presented himself alive to them
by many proofs after he had suffered,
appearing to them during forty days
and speaking about the kingdom of God.
While meeting with them,
he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem,
but to wait for “the promise of the Father
about which you have heard me speak;
for John baptized with water,
but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

When they had gathered together they asked him,
“Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons
that the Father has established by his own authority.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
throughout Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.”
When he had said this, as they were looking on,
he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.
While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going,
suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.
They said, “Men of Galilee,
why are you standing there looking at the sky?
This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven
will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”

Commentary on
Acts 1:1-11

We have today the introductory comments of St. Luke as he begins the Acts of the Apostles. Like any well written story, he connects the events that have just taken place in his first volume- The Gospel of Luke, with what will follow. He uses the number forty, which has religious significance, to describe the period between the resurrection and the Ascension (even though in his Gospel, this took place on Easter Sunday –see below).

Using the interval of days, Luke links the resurrection, Christ’s glorification, and his ascension with the appearance of the Holy Spirit – the Pascal Mystery. Christ’s departure marks the end of his direct involvement with the Apostles, except for his appearance to Paul on the road to Damascus. The passage concludes with a unique description of the actual event or Jesus being taken into heaven.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9

R. (6) God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.
R. Alleluia.

All you peoples, clap your hands,
shout to God with cries of gladness,
For the LORD, the Most High, the awesome,
is the great king over all the earth.
R. God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.
R. Alleluia.

God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy;
the LORD, amid trumpet blasts.
Sing praise to God, sing praise;
sing praise to our king, sing praise.

R. God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.
R. Alleluia.

For king of all the earth is God;
sing hymns of praise.
God reigns over the nations,
God sits upon his holy throne.

R. God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.
R. Alleluia.

Commentary on
Ps 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9

Psalm 47 is a hymn of praise celebrating God’s enthronement and kingship over the people. The imagery in the second strophe (v. 6) strongly suggests the procession of the Arc of the Covenant being processed and installed as part of this celebration. The song concludes with a proclamation of the universal claim of God – King of all the earth.

Reading II: Ephesians 1:17-23

Brothers and sisters:
May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,
give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation
resulting in knowledge of him.
May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call,
what are the riches of glory
in his inheritance among the holy ones,
and what is the surpassing greatness of his power
for us who believe,
in accord with the exercise of his great might:
which he worked in Christ,
raising him from the dead
and seating him at his right hand in the heavens,
far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion,
and every name that is named
not only in this age but also in the one to come.
And he put all things beneath his feet
and gave him as head over all things to the church,
which is his body,
the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.

Commentary on
Eph 1:17-23

After his introductory address and blessing, St. Paul offers a prayer that the community may receive full spiritual understanding of the mystery decreed in Christ. His opening statement “…your faith in the Lord Jesus and of your love for all the holy ones” provides a strong link between “faith” and “love”. Faith in Christ and love of each other form a cornerstone of the community, connected perpetually. The prayer for “wisdom and revelation” goes beyond a simple understanding of God’s plan, but knowledge of God, himself.

The prayer for enlightenment promotes the idea that only through an understanding of God’s great sacrifice can the hope offered by the savior be realized. The Apostle emphasizes the power and majesty of Jesus placing his sacrifice in perspective “…he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things” – how much love was shown to God’s creation by offering up one whose state is so exalted. St. Paul’s concluding verse opens introduces his concept of the Church as the living body of Christ – a theme that developed in earlier letters to other congregations (cf. Romans 12: 4f; 1 Corinthians 12:12ff).

Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:19-23

Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands,
a copy of the true one, but heaven itself,
that he might now appear before God on our behalf.
Not that he might offer himself repeatedly,
as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary
with blood that is not his own;
if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly
from the foundation of the world.
But now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages
to take away sin by his sacrifice.
Just as it is appointed that men and women die once,
and after this the judgment, so also Christ,
offered once to take away the sins of many,
will appear a second time, not to take away sin
but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since through the blood of Jesus
we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary
by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil,
that is, his flesh,
and since we have (a great priest over the house of God, “
let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust,
with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience
and our bodies washed in pure water.
Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope,
for he who made the promise is trustworthy.

Commentary on
Heb 9:24-28; 10:19-23

Supporting the Solemnity of the Ascension, this passage from Hebrews contrasts the earthly temple to the heavenly throne mounted by the Lord. We also see the contrast between the traditions of the Hebrew Priests, constantly offering sacrifices of atonement, and the sacrifice of Christ, offered once and for all so that sins might be forgiven.

In the final paragraph taken from the next chapter, we are shown the practical consequences of Christ’s ascension to the Father and the role of Eternal High Priest he assumes.

Gospel: Luke 24:46-53

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer
and rise from the dead on the third day
and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins,
would be preached in his name
to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things.
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.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany,
raised his hands, and blessed them.
As he blessed them he parted from them
and was taken up to heaven.
They did him homage
and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy,
and they were continually in the temple praising God.

Commentary on
Lk 24:46-53

Luke’s Gospel provides us with a shortened version of the Ascension story. The emphasis in our Gospel is that what was promised has been fulfilled and now the next stage in God’s revelation is to begin. This short version is setting the stage for a more completed record of the events that follow in Acts of the Apostles (cf Acts 1:4-14)


According to St. Luke’s comments in the introduction to the Acts of the Apostles, we have now celebrated the first forty days of the Easter season in which the Lord made appearances to the Disciples. He reassured them and brought them to final understanding of the events that had transpired and the role they were to play going forward.

With this event, the Lord takes his leave of them, not to be seen again in the flesh and only by St. Paul explicitly. From this point forward the Apostles (we call them that from this time forward because the have moved from the role of pupil to that of teacher) are tasked with taking the Word and the Way to the people of the world without Jesus presence. Well, that’s not exactly true, is it? They are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, the third of the Three Persons in One God to guide and sustain them. But that is next week’s story.

For us the Feast of the Ascension has an important inference, a lesson, if you will, about our own call and role. Since we constantly look for signs that the Lord has called us to do something definite or that he has some plan for us, this event helps us understand where we are to seek that guidance.

We know that the Lord has taken his leave of this earth until he comes again. We see that, with his closest friends, he has told them that they are to take the Word and the Way to the whole world. They must have been daunted by that enormous task, but they accepted what he asked of them. With incredibly little support and not inconsiderable resistance they started doing what he asked them. They literally took it one step at a time. What the Lord’s Ascension said to them was the baton had been passed. The Lord had ended one chapter in the salvation of the world and started another. The new model is the one were we ask for guidance and the Holy Spirit delivers it. It is, in effect, our right of passage. From today we stand on our own. It is a proud day for the Lord.


[ii] The image today is “The Ascension of Christ” by Garofalo (Benvenuto Tisi), 1510-20 
[iii] The readings are taken from the New American Bible with the exception of the Psalm and its response which were developed by the International Committee for English in Liturgy (ICEL). This re-publication is not authorized by USCCB and is for private use only.

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