The Ascension of the Lord
Recently it was decided to move the celebration of Ascension in of the Dioceses to this Sunday. While this moves the feast away the fortieth day after Easter Sunday it does open up the celebration of the Ascension as part of the journey of the Easter Season. This Sunday’s gospel passage contains part of the prayer Jesus addressed to his Father following his Last Supper discourse with its the promise of the holy Spirit. Jesus prays for his disciples and for all who will believe in him through their words. The depth and poetic beauty of Jesus’ prayer defies making an adequate prose summary. Principal elements of the prayer are listed here merely as an aid to memory for the reader — communion in the life of Father and Son, desire that the world come to believe in him, desire that all may see his eternal glory, desire that the Father’s love be in all who believe. Ascension is not just a feast that “happens to fall in Eastertide”: it is an integral part of the Easter mystery. Remember the Lord’s words at the Last Supper: “I am going to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with me.” Jesus does not open the way to us just by rising from the dead: to complete the mystery presumes the Lord’s return to the Father. Ascension is therefore a feast of hope: our hope that the Lord will return, as he went. Our hope that he will take us with him, when our bodies are raised as his was. Our hope that in due course we will take our place in heaven, where he sits at the Father’s right hand.
Our focus today is on the retelling of a story declaring that Christ has returned to the Father, and so we think of it as the ‘end’ of the Christ event or the ‘end of Easter’ – in times past there was a custom of extinguishing the Paschal Candle after the gospel to signify: ‘he is gone’. That said he is gone but at the same time we believe that he is truly here with us. The ascension is an end As well as a beginning. While it was the end of Jesus’ physical presence with his beloved disciples, it marked the beginning of Jesus’ presence with them and with us in a new way. Jesus promised that he would be with them always to the end of time (Matthew 28:20) and he is with us too in the Eucharist, that is also called the real presence of Jesus in the blessed Sacrament. Now as the glorified and risen Lord and Saviour, Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven, and he promised to send the Apostles the Holy Spirit who would give them his power on the Feast of Pentecost.
The Feast of the Ascension is a call for us to renew our participation in the Church’s mission. We help to make disciples of others by our words and actions. When we are committed to the Church and its teaching, we teach other people about the eternal life that is offered to them whenever we speak about our faith and its relevance to our lives. This is how we participate in the Church’s mission and begin to understand more fully its nature. On the Feast of the Ascension then we focus our minds and hearts not so much on Jesus’ departure from this world but rather on his continued presence among us, albeit in a different way. While his earthly mission concludes with the Ascension, his mission of salvation continues in the Church. We, together one and all are the Church. We are the Body of Christ which is a sign of God’s loving presence to the entire world. We are reminded to assume the responsibility that comes with baptism as we renew our commitment to being the Church and to loving the Church as a son or a daughter loves his or her Father. In this last Sunday before Pentecost, may we take courage in the vision of Jesus Himself of a world at peace, living in unity and love. May we pray today with Jesus’ prayer for unity, in local church, in our parish communities and in the universal church. We beg God for stronger faith and stronger love and stronger courage in our own witnessing as we continue our journey of faith.