The Ascension of the Lord into Heaven Year B
Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:17-23; Mark 16:15-20
A time to say goodbye; a time for departure; a time for a new presence. This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord into heaven. We affirm our faith in Christ who "ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father". The Ascension of Christ into heaven is to be understood within context of the Paschal mystery of Christ, which comes into completion with the Ascension. The readings of today however give us much food for thought. There is a sharp contrast between hesitation, uncertainty and ignorance of the disciples and the confidence and certainty portrayed by Jesus’ message. His message reveals the power and irresistible plan of God unfolding before the disciples. One contrast is found in the disciples’ ignorance when Jesus tells them that he is about to be taken away from them. The disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They have completely missed the point of Jesus’ mission and the whole purpose of what Jesus came to accomplish. Having been with Jesus for three years, they still think that Jesus came to liberate Israel from the Romans. That is not why Jesus came into the world. Another contrast is clear from the way the disciples stand around as it were with ‘mouths open’ as Jesus goes up into heaven. What next? The message from the angel is another sharp contrast. Why are you standing there looking at the sky? This is no time for star-gazing, but for waiting in reflection.
Let us for a moment reflect on what the Ascension into heaven means. We must not think of the Ascension in terms of Christ going up and away from us, and from the world, in purely scientific physical terms. The Ascension is not a departure in purely human terms. That was the mistake the disciples made. That image of disciples looking up to heaven is indeed an image of where we often find ourselves in our understanding of Jesus’ mission and consequently the mission of the Church. Often times we forget what Jesus told his disciples. Jesus advised his disciples “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father…” In other words, we must not live on our own human plans. This also implies going back to basics, listening to God and waiting patiently for God’s word, his voice through the Holy Spirit; returning to Jerusalem and waiting in discernment for God’s instruction. It means waiting for his power through the Holy Spirit. In the language of faith, the ascension means "the entry" of Jesus into the complete and definitive communion with the Father. Jesus Christ enters into the fullness of the Father's glory, and makes it possible for those who belong to his Body, the Church, to follow. Indeed Jesus' entry into the presence of the Father makes it possible for his Church to wait in prayer and discernment for the gift of the Holy Spirit who is God's continual presence with us. Even now, the risen Lord is ever active in the Church as she engages in the Church’s mission of reconciliation, forgiveness and transformation of this world under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, who "has put all things under his feet". So what message do we take home? 1) The message of the Ascension is indeed about the Church in its mission today; 2) Pope John Paul II years ago cautioned us before making our pastoral plans to wait in Jerusalem; to reflect prayerfully before the face of Christ; 3) Only through prayer and contemplation as it were in Jerusalem where Jesus accomplished his mission, are we ready to listen to what God wants us to do in accordance with His divine plan of salvation. Think about it.
©2012 John S. Mbinda