The Ascension of the Lord [B]
Acts 1:1-11 + Ephesians 1:17-23 + Mark 16:15-20
May 16, 2021
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved ….”
Each of us has to go through the experience of leave-taking. Sometimes other people leave our lives. At other times, it’s we who have to leave others. The leave may be forced, or it may be freely chosen. When seniors graduate from one school to another, or when young people graduate from studies to a job, a familiar setting has to be left behind so that one can grow through new experiences.
As difficult as all this may be, the most radical form of “leave taking” in life—the most dramatic separation between people—is when someone leaves this earth. That’s one part of what the Church is celebrating on the feast of the Ascension.
The readings today proclaim Jesus Christ taking leave of His followers by leaving this earth: ascending to Paradise, and—in effect—leaving them behind in the dust. We hear on this feast the end of the Gospel according to Saint Mark, and the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles.
For the followers of Jesus, the day of Jesus’ Ascension was filled with a great deal of fear and anxiety. In a way, the day of Jesus’ Ascension is like Good Friday. We might ask: why should we celebrate the end of a good thing? Why do we call the day of Jesus’ death “Good” Friday? Both the death of Jesus and His Ascension to Heaven point us to one of the central mysteries of our spiritual life: that those who are bound together by love do not have to grow weaker when they are separated from each other.
In the life of Christ and His Bride, the Church, these two events—Jesus’ Death and His Ascension—were necessary parts of God’s plan of salvation. In fact, God is never truly gone from our midst: not on Good Friday, and not today as He rises out of the midst of His followers.
Though Jesus departs, He wants now to appear in new ways. The Ascension of Jesus—His leaving this earth in bodily form—allowed his followers to assume their calling to be the Mystical Body of Christ: the Church. Without Jesus leaving this earth, there would be no reason for the Church to be the Body of Christ on earth.
In our own spiritual lives, we have to be willing to look for God’s presence as He wills to make Himself present. Back in Jesus’ day, the people of Israel had been demoralized by the Roman Empire. The nation of Israel had always prided itself on its military power, and then their nation was taken over by the Romans. “Where was God?” they asked. When Jesus walked this earth, He claimed to answer their question, and for His answer He was put to death through the acclamation of His own people. Then, the same question was asked to Jesus’ followers: “Where is your God?” On the third day Jesus answered that question by His Resurrection. But: He revealed this answer only to His followers. This is significant.
Why did He make His presence known only to His followers? Because it would be their job—as the Church—to answer this question to those outside the Church. It would be their job to speak in His Name as one Body. But for some days after the Ascension, the apostles and disciples weren’t sure about this great commission Jesus had given them. They were afraid, and they locked themselves into an upper room to spend the days in prayer. It wasn’t a coincidence that it was the same upper room where He had given them the gift of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
Ten days after the Ascension—that is, 53 days after Jesus had given His Body and Blood through the Institution of the Eucharist—Jesus revealed His very Self in a new way. Through the Power of the Holy Spirit, God bound together the followers of Jesus into the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church. By the Power of the Holy Spirit, God began on that day to speak through the followers of Jesus.
That day is the culmination of the Easter Season. That day is Pentecost Sunday, which the Church will celebrate with great joy a week from this Sunday.