Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord – Cycle A
Note: Where a Scripture text is underlined in the body of this
discussion, it is recommended that the reader look up and read that
The revelation we celebrate on this day is that the direct experience
of God revealed to men and women in Jesus of Nazareth continues to be
experienced when the Body of Christ, the Church, gathers in witness,
love and mission. Jesus brought power and hope to people. As He talked,
healed, and loved them, they felt the direct presence of God. To be in
the company of Jesus was to be in the company of God. Jesus appeared to
His disciples after His resurrection. Those appearances were more than
their seeing a vision or acknowledging that death could not destroy the
Lord. In His appearances Jesus told His disciples that the faithful
would continue to experience His presence even though they could no
longer see Him. The Holy Spirit would make them aware and sensitive to
that presence in the Eucharist. They would feel the same healing power
freeing them from their enslavement to sin and guilt. Their vision of
life would be enlarged as they grew in their covenant relationship with
To say “My life has significance because I am a child of God
called to carry out His will in my life” is to make a statement
that opens one’s life to new power and possibilities.
Experiencing Jesus the Christ, in other words, was not to cease with
the death of Jesus or with the last of His resurrection appearances.
The experience would continue among the faithful. The power and
presence of Christ are eternal experiences, not limited to time and
space. The presence of Christ is as much our experience as it was the
experience of the disciples. Christ “reigns” eternally with
God, the creative power who calls us into being. As we say in the Creed
“... He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of
1st Reading - Acts 1:1-11
Acts has been called “The Gospel of Luke, Volume 2” in that
it takes over from where St. Luke stopped when writing his gospel with
the ascension forming the hinge point. St. Luke, an educated man, a
physician by profession, was meticulous and orderly. He sets out in
Acts, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to prove the truth of
the Apostles’ teaching and show how rapidly that teaching spread.
It recounts the Church’s expansion which, particularly among the
Gentiles, was marked by miracles; thus bearing out what our Lord had
foretold: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come
upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and
Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Today’s
reading, which documents Jesus’ ascension, records Jesus’
last words to His disciples which includes this foretelling of the
expansion of His Church.
1:1 In the first book,
The Gospel of Luke
Who Theophilus is, is unknown although both Luke’s gospel and
this book are addressed to him. The name means “Beloved of
God” and could indicate the Christian community as a whole.
dealt with all that Jesus did and taught 2 until the day he was taken
up, after giving instructions through the holy Spirit to the apostles
whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them by many proofs
after he had suffered,
Greek: paschein - usually translated as “passion,” refers to Jesus’ integral passion-death experience
appearing to them during forty days
Forty in Hebrew numerology is a number representing transition/change.
Forty years is a generation; the flood was 40 days and 40 nights; Moses
was on the mountain for 40 days; the Hebrews wandered in the desert for
40 years; Jesus was tempted for 40 days.
and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 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;
Luke 24:49 “I am going to send you what my Father has promised;
but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on
5 for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the holy Spirit.”
This refers back to John’s statement in Luke 3:16 (or Matthew
3:11) “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will
come one who is more powerful than I ... He will baptize you with the
Holy Spirit and with fire.” This precisely demonstrates the
prophecy’s fulfillment and makes John the Baptist the herald of
the Church as well as of the Messiah.
6 When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you
at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel’”
This question is of present concern to Luke’s community. What is
being stressed as the disciple’s mistaken hope is not a
“worldly, nationalistic” kingdom as much as a hope of an
immediate parousia, to which the outpouring of the Spirit was to lead.
7 He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or
seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.
It is the preoccupation of an impending parousia that Jesus corrects,
not the idea of Israel’s restoration (see also Mark 13:32; 1
8 But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you,
The Spirit is the substitute for the parousia. The Spirit is the
principle of continued Christian existence in a new era of sacred
history, the era of the Church and mission.
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Jerusalem is the geographic center of sacred history and the influence
of the Church will spread in three geographical stages: Jerusalem;
Judea and Samaria; the ends of the earth.
9 When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.
A visible departure.
10 While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going,
suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. 11
They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at
Luke does everything in twos. This brings to mind the finding of the
empty tomb in Luke 24:4 and the transfiguration in Luke 9:30;
especially the empty tomb where they ask “why do you look for the
living among the dead’”.
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.”
The ascension is a prefigurement of the parousia.
2nd Reading - Ephesians 1:17-23
Toward the end of his second missionary journey (in the year 52) Saint
Paul stayed for a while in Ephesus (Acts 18:19ff), one of the great
cities of Asia Minor, where he preached and founded the church to which
this letter is addressed. Shortly after this, a distinguished
personality, Apollos, appeared in Ephesus; he received instruction from
Aquila and his wife Priscilla, two disciples of Paul (Acts 18:24-26)
and he, in turn, prepared the ground for Paul’s preaching on his
third missionary journey (54-56). Paul’s visit was not without
incident (Acts 19-20): he was forced to leave the city because of an
uproar caused by Demetrius the silversmith. Paul did not forget the
Ephesians, however, and, from Rome, he wrote them this letter.
Paul’s main purpose in writing seems to be to explore the great
mystery of the redemption, of which Christ Himself is the cornerstone,
the foundation of the entire spiritual building into whom all
Christians should be built. What we hear described in today’s
reading is Jesus’ position in heaven after the ascension.
17 May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,
This title, Father of Glory, occurs only here in the New Testament, but Acts 7:2 calls Him
“God of Glory” and 1 Corinthians 2:8 says “Lord of Glory.”
give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.
Not knowledge merely of God’s plan, but knowledge “of
him”, an experience of God’s great love for men in Christ
that would be visibly shown in a true brotherhood of men.
18 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,
The members of His Church. Not only the Church on earth (Church Militant) but in heaven as well (Church Triumphant).
19 and what is the surpassing greatness of his power
for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might,
God’s mighty power overcomes humanly impossible obstacles.
20 which he worked in Christ, raising him from the
dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens,
One continuous action
21 far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion,
Angelic beings who were thought to control the world and who were created through the wisdom of God.
and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come.
No present or future force or power can block God’s work.
22 And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all
things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of the one who
fills all things in every way.
The Church is the body, Christ is the head.
Gospel - Matthew 28:16-20
Commentators have said that this brief ending (this is the closing
verses of Matthew’s gospel) is so rich that it would be hard to
say more or greater things in the same number of words. It has been
called an anticipated parousia, a partial fulfillment of Daniel’s
vision of the Son of Man (Daniel 7 & 8). Its genre combines
elements of an Old Testament enthronement pattern with an apostolic
16 The eleven disciples
This number alludes to Judas’ defection.
went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.
No mountain has been previously mentioned in this gospel. The location
of the mountain need not be sought; it falls in the same category as
the mountain upon which Jesus was tempted (Matthew 4:8), the sermon on
the mount (Matthew 5:1), and the mount of transfiguration (Matthew
17:1). A mountain is symbolic of revelation, a kind of Galilean Sinai.
17 When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
Their worship shows their faith, yet this is mingled with doubt –
a common psychological experience which gives hope to us moderns. The
mention of doubt on the part of some is a candid observation (recall
that other gospel accounts refer to “doubting Thomas”).
Through all the resurrection stories there runs the idea that those who
saw Jesus did not recognize Him. The disciples see an appearance of the
risen Jesus, but it is His words rather than His looks which are
stressed in this narrative.
18 Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All
power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Note the past tense. It is God who has bestowed divine authority on
Jesus as Son of Man. This authority is that of the kingdom of God (see
Matthew 6:10; Daniel 7:14; 2 Chronicles 36:23).
19 Go, therefore,
This great missionary commission concerns the present. The general
command is to make disciples and then there are two subordinate clauses
which explain how this is to be done: baptize, and teach.
and make disciples of all nations,
This universal call applies to all people of all cultures; even Jewish people who are not yet disciples.
baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,
This is the first mention of the Trinitarian formula. Baptism admits one to the Church.
20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
The disciples are to carry on Jesus’ teaching ministry, thus
laying the foundation for Christian education, theology, and other
intellectual work. Teaching follows baptism – once admitted to
the Church, the work of the faithful is just beginning.
And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
The task of baptizing and teaching all nations is so daunting that
there is a promise of continual support. The gift of the Holy Spirit is
not explicitly mentioned here in contrast to John 20:22 and Acts 2:1-4
(see also Matthew 18:20). Jesus is Emmanuel, the divine presence
(shekinah) with His people as they make decisions, study, pray, preach,
baptize and teach.
There is no mention of an ascension in this gospel. It must be assumed
that it coincided with the resurrection. On hearing the words of our
Gospel today, we should bear in mind that the authority of the Church,
which is given it for the salvation of mankind, comes directly from
Jesus the Christ, and that this authority, in the sphere of faith and
morals, is above any other authority on earth.
St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Picayune, MS http://www.scborromeo.org