First Reading Acts 1:1–11; Psalm 47:2–3, 6–9; Second Reading Ephesians 1:17–23; Gospel Luke 24:46–53
Psalm 47:2–3, 6–9
Clap your hands, all you peoples;
shout to God with loud songs of joy.
For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome,
a great king over all the earth.
God has gone up with a shout,
the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the king of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm.
God is king over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne.
Reading the Word
First Reading Acts 1:1–11
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Second Reading: Ephesians 1:17–23
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Gospel: Luke 24:46–53
Jesus said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Hearing the Word
“The Great Transition”
The readings of the Easter season frequently show how Jesus prepared his disciples to continue his mission of bringing salvation to the world. The Feast of the Ascension concludes this time of preparation and commemorates the transition between Jesus and his successors.
The first reading contains the opening section of the book of Acts, where St. Luke makes a literary transition between the Gospel and its sequel, the book of Acts. Luke’s first volume, the Gospel, contained an account of the life and ministry of Jesus, while the second volume will present the work of his successors, the Apostles. Both volumes are dedicated to the same person, Theophilus, probably a new convert to Christianity and a patron who sponsored Luke’s work. To link the two volumes, Luke begins the book of Acts with the same event that concluded the Gospel – the ascension of Jesus.
The account of the ascension in Acts is more detailed than in the Gospel. It begins with Jesus announcing the imminent coming of the Holy Spirit. The disciples wondered whether this event would bring about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Their question was justified because, according to the prophecy of Joel (Joel 2:28-32), the outpouring of God’s Spirit would be a sign of the arrival of the “day of the Lord” and the final restoration of the nation (cf. Acts 2:17). Jesus enlightened the disciples, stating that the coming of the Holy Spirit would not bring history to an end. On the contrary, it would open a new chapter in history, marked by the apostles’ witness to Jesus. Their mission would be universal, starting with Jerusalem, and then extending to the ends of the earth. These were Jesus’ parting words to his successors, who remained in the world to continue Jesus’ work by proclaiming salvation in his name.
This transition was not easy for the apostles. Luke describes them as standing alone and gazing up towards heaven, as if refusing to accept that Jesus is no longer with them. To move them out of this paralysis, two men in white robes appeared. These were the same men who appeared to the women in Jesus’ empty tomb. Speaking to the women in the tomb, these men asked why they were looking for a living one among the dead. Now, speaking to the apostles, they asked why they are standing still looking up toward heaven. They followed the question with the reassurance that Jesus’ departure is not final. He will return at an appointed time. Their words imply that the disciples ought not to passively wait for Jesus’ return, but to get on with the work that he entrusted to them. The apostles subsequently returned to Jerusalem and began preparations for Pentecost.
The ascension of Jesus marks the moment when the disciples effectively began their independent work in the world. Up to this point, they were Jesus’ disciples. Now, they will be Jesus’ apostles who, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will be responsible for bringing the message of salvation to the entire world.
The second reading contains Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, which follows his splendid description of how God acted to save humanity through Jesus (cf. Eph 1:3-14). Paul prays for wisdom and revelation so that the believers in Ephesus might fully grasp and appreciate the immensity of what God has done for them. The apostle first writes about the hope to which they were called. By “hope” he means the prospect of eternal life – the future outcome of their faith and union with Jesus in their present, earthly life. Paul then looks at their current membership in the Christian community, the Church, calling it a “glorious inheritance among the saints”. In this letter, the Church is understood as the living body of Christ himself. The Church, this earthly community of believers, is an extension of the glorified Lord who was raised by God from the dead and set as the supreme authority over the entire cosmos. This cosmic Lord is joined to his Church and fills it with his presence. Moreover, God’s own power which brought Jesus to this exalted state operates now in the Church through him. In this view, the Church is filled with the divine presence and the divine life filling its individual members. Therefore, Christians are already living a glorious life of heaven while still on earth. No wonder that Paul considers belonging to such a community “a glorious inheritance”.
Here, we must remember that the Ephesians had only recently made the transition from the pagan world to this new reality of the glorified life in the Christian community. In this letter, Paul seeks to make them keenly aware that they now belong to a different world. Having renounced pagan beliefs and practices, they entered the Church where they exist in union with the one true God through Jesus. This transition took place when they joined themselves to Christ by faith, a decision that altered their life and status forever.
The Gospel reading contains the conclusion of Luke’s story of Jesus, describing the same events narrated in the opening lines of Acts. Here, Jesus also prepares his disciples for their independent mission in the world, and then ascends to heaven, leaving them to carry out his instructions. These instructions begin with a reminder that, as the Messiah, Jesus was meant to die and rise again. They initially had great difficulties in accepting this truth. Next, Jesus states that repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name are to be proclaimed to all nations. This implies that the disciples, as witnesses to his resurrection, are responsible for carrying this message of salvation to the whole world. Finally, Jesus instructs them to return to Jerusalem and await the coming of the Holy Spirit who will empower and guide them. In his final act on earth, Jesus blesses them. This blessing signifies that God is with them as they begin this new stage of their life and ministry, just as God was with Jesus during his earthly mission. Returning to heaven, Jesus left the disciples in the world as his successors. He prepared them for this moment in the course of his ministry. Now, this transition is complete.
The ascension brought to conclusion a period of intense preparation of the disciples for their independent mission in the world. Jesus taught them extensively during his ministry and then proved to them that he truly was God’s Messiah who brought salvation to the world through his death and resurrection. Thus prepared, they are now entrusted with testifying to Jesus with the aim of bringing people to repentance and faith, which leads to salvation. Those who accept this apostolic witness and become members of the Christian community will enter into union with God and Christ, so splendidly described in the letter to the Ephesians. With the divine life in them and united to Jesus, the glorified Lord, believers can only sing with the Psalmist the hymn of thanksgiving and praise, “for the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.”
Listening to the Word of God
On the Sunday of the Ascension, we commemorate the transition between the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of his successors. This invites us to reflect on our calling to share in the mission of Christ. In this context, the Church gives us this Sunday to examine ourselves as Christians who have been chosen and called, not only to benefit from the salvation won by Christ for us, but also to be men and women who transmit the message of Christ to all, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Christ in today’s liturgy is entrusting to us the task of continuing his mission among all people. To carry out this mission we must allow the Holy Spirit to direct us at every step.
The first reading helps us to understand the transition from Christ to his successors, the apostles. However, Christ also passes to us the baton of his mission as apostles of today. In the African tradition kings and great leaders pass on the baton of leadership to their heirs before they leave this world. Before their death they prepare their heirs training them in the traditions and customs of the people, and pass on to them the sacred teachings and secrets of the kingdom. These heirs afterward carry on the mission of the leaders ensuring that the people and their way of life continues. As we see in the scriptures, Jesus also prepared his followers for the mission ahead of them through his teaching and life witness. The mission of saving the world does not end with Christ but continues through us, his followers.
The liturgy also reminds us about the community of saints, that is the believers in Christ. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we were incorporated in the body of Christ and together we are carrying out the will of the head of the body, who is Christ himself. Through this community of believers, God is present and active in the world. The community of saints is a living organism that works together to accomplish God’s goals. The transition from Christ to his followers was not an easy, one but with the assistance of the Holy Spirit the mission of the community of believers continues until today.
In the Gospel, we read about Christ commissioning his successors to go to all nations and preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to everyone. As successors of Christ today we Christians are called to witness to what we believe. It is important to evaluate ourselves on how we witness to our faith. Witnessing with ones’ life is an essential important tool that speaks volumes because the way we live our lives confirms and reflects our belief and our relationship with the savior.
The ascension of Christ marks the beginning of the mission of Christ’s followers to all nations. Thus, we are guided by the liturgy to reflect on how we are carrying out the mission of Christ today. This mission requires from us the opening of ourselves to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, so that, in communion with the body of Christ, consisting of other believers, we may bring Christ to those who do not know him.
“When the fire dies, it leaves ashes behind.”
What is the mission I have as a follower of Christ?
Does my witness of life draw others closer to Christ or away from him?
Response to God
In these days I will live in an attitude of thanksgiving for the gift of salvation received through Christ and the gift of sharing in the mission of Christ.
Response to your World
In the coming days, I will make it a point to live at least one Christian virtues – courage, justice, kindness or forgiveness. I will also devote my time to praying for the grace to be a true Christian, especially in challenging situations.
As a group, we shall organize prayer moments for Christians who are persecuted and cannot witness to their faith. This will be accompanied by each member taking it upon himself or herself to pray also for unbelievers.
God Almighty, as your Son ascends to you, grant us the grace to carry out the mission he has entrusted to us, his followers. May we never resist the workings of your Holy Spirit in us. Increase our faith and the courage to live Christian values in our world. May we witness to the gift of your salvation with our very life. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen.
Scripture quotations from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.
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