The Ascension of our Lord

This week on Thursday the Church celebrates the Ascension of our Lord. This feast has been transferred to Sunday in our diocese. The Ascension celebrates the entry of Jesus’ humanity into divine glory in God’s heavenly domain, forty days after his Resurrection.

The readings for this Mass contain two accounts of Jesus’ Ascension. In the account from the beginning of Acts, we read, “As they were looking on, [Jesus] was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight” (Acts 1:9). From the end of Mark’s Gospel we read, “So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God” (16:19).

We might be tempted to see the Ascension as something extra that has been added on. Perhaps like special flavored icing on top of the cake. Something extra to decorate the real substance which is the cake. Surely it is Jesus’ work on earth in his passion, death and resurrection that is most important. Isn’t the Ascension a kind of victory dance? This is clearly not the way the Church understands the ascension.

The Catechism reminds us Christ accomplished the work or redemption “principally by the Paschal mystery of his blessed Passion, Resurrection from the dead, and glorious Ascension” (CCC 1067). The final work of ascending into heaven is an essential part of the whole process of the Paschal mystery.

In baseball we might see an excellent play by a batter which results in him getting to third base, but he does not score a run until he safely reaches home in a later play of the game. While it is clear the rules of baseball require a runner to tag all three bases and to safely make it home to score a run, why was it necessary for Jesus to return bodily to heaven to complete his divine mission?

The answer is found in the thinking of the fourth century Greek Fathers such as Gregory of Nyssa. Although Jesus was the pre-existent son of God, he became the incarnate Son, and as such became the firstborn of the new spiritual creation. Taking up the image of firstborn and first fruits from the book of Exodus, this implies that by his ascension into heaven Jesus becomes a kind of first fruits or firstborn offering to the Father.

It is also interesting from the Old Testament, that the first fruits wave offering (Levitcus 23) was the signal to begin the countdown to the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost 50 days after the wave offering. Jesus ascended on the 40th day (Acts 1:3), and sent the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:2-4).

For the ancient Israelites, “first fruits” meant more than merely the first to be born of the herds and flocks or the first ripe harvest. They believed that the whole was contained in the first part offered, and when the first was offered to God then the whole of the crops or the herds were sanctified along with it. Using this way of thinking the whole is contained and even concentrated in the first fruits. This is very common thinking in the New Testament. We are joined to Christ’s Body and he is the Head. He is the vine and we are the branches. The consecrated Bread which we eat in the Eucharist is a participation or communion with Christ.

By offering his own sacred humanity to the Father, Jesus makes a way to sanctify the whole of humanity. Jesus becomes the new or second Adam. By entering the heavenly Temple in his sacred humanity Jesus consecrates the new creation initiated in the incarnation. Christ offers and sanctifies his humanity and becomes for us the font and origin of ascended life.

As St. Thomas Aquinas later notes, “Christ’s Ascension is the direct cause of our ascension, as by beginning it in Him who is our Head, with whom the members must be united” (Summa, III, 57, 6). Aquinas highlights three effects of the Ascension. First by his Ascension Christ prepared a way for us to enter heaven (John 14:2). Secondly just as the high priest entered the sanctuary into God’s presence to represent the people, Christ entered heaven to intercede for us. And finally, enthroned in heaven as God and Lord, Christ will send down gifts upon men (Eph. 4:10).

What does the Ascension mean for each of us personally? In the account in the Acts of the Apostles we are told that the Ascension is directly related to the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit. The disciples are promised that in a few days they would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). This baptism would be the source and power of their ministry. “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.” (Acts 1:8). Mark likewise affirms that “These signs will accompany those who believe” (Mark 16:17) with a list of supernatural deeds of the Spirit to follow.

The Ascension allows Christ to release from heaven the promised Holy Spirit. As his disciples we are called to imitate his ministry of preaching the Gospel and healing the sick (John 14:12). Through the Spirit we are enabled to enter into a new intimate relationship with God, to become friends of God (John 15:15). The Spirit now within us cries out ‘Abba father’ in our hearts (Romans 8:15).

The Ascension is an invitation to a new level of intimacy with God. It is the font and origin of a new ascended life. Earlier in John’s Gospel Jesus declared, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink” (John 7:37), John tells us that Jesus “said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive” (John 7:39).

Do you thirst for greater intimacy with God? Then come to Jesus and drink. Jesus wishes to offer each one of us a personal Pentecost. Lord Jesus, come by your Spirit and fill the hearts of your faithful.

Daily Scripture Readings

For complete daily Scripture texts, click here. http://www.usccb.org

Monday, May 14
Acts 1:15-17, 20-26
Psalms 113:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
John 15:9-17

Tuesday, May 15
Acts 20:17-27
Psalms 68:10-11, 20-21
John 17:1-11a

Wednesday, May 16
Acts 20:28-38
Psalms 68:29-30, 33-35a, 35bc-36ab
John 17:11b-19

Thursday, May 17
Acts 22:30; 23:6-11
Psalms 16:1-2a & 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
John 17:20-26

Friday, May 18
Acts 25:13b-21
Psalms 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20ab
John 21:15-19

Saturday, May 19
Acts 28:16-20, 30-31
Psalms 11:4, 5 & 7
John 21:20-25

Pentecost Sunday, May 20
Acts 2:1-11
Psalms 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
or Galatians 5:16-25
John 20:19-23
or John 15:26-27; 16:12-15

Monday, May 21
Genesis 3:9-15, 20
or Acts 1:12-14
Psalms 87:1-2, 3 & 5, 6-7
John 19:25-34

Tuesday, May 22
James 4:1-10
Psalms 55:7-8, 9-10a, 10b-11a, 23
Mark 9:30-37

Wednesday, May 23
James 4:13-17
Psalms 49:2-3, 6-7, 8-10, 11
Mark 9:38-40

Thursday, May 24
James 5:1-6
Psalms 49:14-15ab, 15cd-16, 17-18, 19-20
Mark 9:41-50

Friday, May 25
James 5:9-12
Psalms 103:1-2, 3-4, 8-9, 11-12
Mark 10:1-12

Saturday, May 26
James 5:13-20
Psalms 141:1-2, 3 & 8
Mark 10:13-16

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Sunday, May 27
Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40
Psalms 33:4-5, 6, 9, 18-19, 20, 22
Romans 8:14-17
Matthew 28:16-20

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Monday
December 17, 2018
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph