The Ascension Of The Lord – Year C.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“A Community Looking Down To Earth”.
The Gospel and the first reading are showing us the entry of Jesus into the glory of his Father. The images used to explain the fact are not easy for us to understand, so we run the risk of looking on the feast of Ascension with our eyes raised to the sky.
This is exactly the opposite of what we should do: it is a feast inviting us to look down to earth, to people among whom we are called to make present the work of the Master. Though Jesus was no longer visible near them, the disciples were full of joy and the Gospel hints at the reason of their joy. And these same reasons should make us and our communities full of joy.
The second reading completes the message. Even though we must keep our eyes on the earth, we know that human life is not enclosed by it nor does it end within the narrow confines of this world. The Ascension is the opening chapter of His new and more powerful presence in the Church.
It is recommended that the actual readings are first studied and then meditated upon with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to grant you the gift of ‘wisdom’ to understand the meaning of the messages of Love, Forgiveness and the Offer of Salvation that the Lord has for each one of us in the Holy Bible.
These commentaries, which have been extracted and summarised for our meditation, are from the published works of priests who have, by their Divine inspiration, become acclaimed scholars of the Scriptures and generally reflect the Church’s understanding of the readings.
These commentaries are not meant to replace the Sunday Homily at Holy Mass but are provided as an additional guide to assist and further enhance our understanding of the Sunday Liturgical Readings.
‘Daily Reflections’ and a Prayer are included to enable us to ‘Live the Word’ during the week following the Sunday Mass. We will begin to understand the meaning of gratuitous love and our life’s true purpose. Through His Word, we will follow the Light to help fulfil the mission that has been given to each one of us by our Creator.
“Allow the Spirit of God to break the chains that keep us from understanding and accepting the word of God.”
Luke, in the last chapter of his gospel book tells us that Jesus went up to heaven the very day of his resurrection (Lk. 24:50-53), why does the book of Acts say a different thing? What about his promise to the good thief on the cross: “Today you will be with me in paradise”? Did he leave him stranded and alone for forty days? Luke is not interested in describing an historical event. Luke describes the Ascension using images and expressions from the culture of his time. First of all we have the rising up the heaven. Where does he take this image from? He is not inventing it, since it had already been used in the Old Testament. The book of Genesis says that the patriarch Enoch was taken away to heaven (Gen. 5:24). The abduction of Elijah is even better known (2 Kings 2:9-15). The Bible tells us how one day this great prophet was near the river Jordan with his disciple Elisha. Suddenly there appeared a chariot of fire drawn by horses of fire. Elijah was taken up into a whirlwind as Elisha looked up to heaven. From that time on his disciple Elisha received the spirit of his master and was empowered to continue on his mission in the world. Elisha having received the spirit of Elijah began performing the same deeds as his master.
Notice how many points there are in common between the stories of Elijah and Jesus. Luke uses the solemn and impressing scene of the Old Testament to express what our senses cannot verify: the entrance of Jesus into the glory of the Father. His life is now completely different from ours: such life cannot be seen, touched, contacted by our senses because it belongs to the world of God, and can only be the subject of our faith and we can speak of it only in images.
The cloud is another image that we find frequently in the Old Testament: it is the sign of the presence of God in a certain place (Ex. 13:22). In the reading of today it signifies that Jesus has now entered into the glory of his Father. After the cloud we have the appearance of two men in white clothing, just like the tomb of Jesus on Easter day (Lk. 24:4). The colour white in the Bible signifies the world of God, hence the words spoken by the two men are a message from God and are true (remember that to prove a point the evidence of two witnesses was required).
The looking up to heaven was in fact what many Christians were doing at the time Luke was writing: instead of looking down to earth and committing themselves seriously to transform the world, many kept looking up at the sky, vainly waiting for the imminent return of the Lord. These disciples are just like many present day Christians who do not take religion as a stimulus to commit themselves seriously to improve the life and conditions of humankind. God is telling such disciples “stop looking up to heaven”, give proof of the authenticity of your faith right here on earth. Blessed are those servants that the Lord, on his return, will find busy at work serving their brothers and sisters (Lk. 12:37).
Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9.
The Psalm was probably first sung after some great military victory. The Ark of the Covenant was solemnly carried through Jerusalem to the Temple where God was greeted as the Lord Most High (Gn. 14-19) and as Great King. On Ascension Day, we apply it to Christ, now exalted in heaven as the Lord of all creation.
Paul prays that his converts may grasp more deeply the treasures of their faith. He uses various pictures to express the power of God exercised in Christ. God raised him from the dead. Like a newly installed king, he made him sit at his right hand (Ps 110:1). He subordinated to him all powers in the universe. He appointed him head of the Church, which is his body. He expresses in doctrine what Luke intended by his description of the physical ascent of Jesus to heaven.
The events following the Resurrection of Jesus in the four Gospels should not be viewed as a sequence of historical happenings but as different aspects of the one mystery of the Resurrection and Exaltation of Jesus. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus ascends to the Father from the Cross (Lk. 23:43). In John’s Gospel, he confers the Holy Spirit upon the disciples on the first Easter eve. While Luke places the Ascension in Jerusalem, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus departs from his disciples from a mountain in Galilee (Mt. 28:16-20). Despite the differences, all the narratives communicate a sense of altered and transformed presence even amid the absence of the earthly Jesus. All also speak of a mission to continue the work of Jesus throughout the world and history.
The Lukan disciples are to be witnesses of Jesus’ life and will be clothed in the Holy Spirit as they spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. We are not to stand “looking at the sky” (Acts.1:11) but at each other, at the Church which is his body (Eph.1:22-23), as a witness of forgiveness throughout history.
What do we celebrate on Ascension Day? Many of us will reply that we are celebrating the departure of our Lord from this world. Did Jesus not promise to be with us up to the end of time (Mt 28:20)? Why did he leave then? Moreover the conclusion of today’s Gospel reading is rather curious. It tells us that his disciples, after worshipping their Master who has been taken up to heaven, returned to Jerusalem “full of joy” (52). Strange! Are any of us happy when a friend or dear one leaves? How could the disciples be full of joy? Why do we rejoice today? Should we not rather be sad?
All these questions arise from a rather naïve interpretation of Luke’s account. The Gospel account is not a news report, but a catechetical lesson: using images well known to his readers, the writer is transmitting to us a clear message of faith. Let us see if wee too can get this message and so like them, be filled with joy.
Did Jesus rise up to heaven? Yes, but his Ascension was not a change in place. In the old times people thought of heaven as a place somewhere high up there and many still believe so today. That is why Luke describes the passage of Jesus from this world as an “Ascension”, a rising up. In fact his Ascension has not been a rising up, but the final entry of Christ into the glory of God. Jesus did not remain a prisoner of death as his enemies wanted. He was the first to cross through “the veil of the Temple” separating the world of men from the world of God and has shown that all that happens on earth: success or failure, injustice, sufferings and even the most absurd of things, like those that had happened to him, do not escape the plan of God. If such is the fate of every person, then death is no longer a frightening event, because Jesus has transformed it into a new birth in the life of God.
Jesus has not gone to another place. He has not gone away from us, he is with us. What has changed is his way of being present, but his presence is no less real. Before Easter he was conditioned by the limits that restrict us too: If he was in a place he could not be simultaneously in another one, if he was with some people, he was far from others, if he got tired, he had to rest. Not anymore; for Jesus the limits bound up with life in this world are over, he is now in the glory of the Father and can be close to each person, always. The Ascension has not diminished his presence, quite the contrary, it has multiplied it!
With the entry of Jesus into the glory of the Father, has anything changed here on earth? Externally nothing has changed. People continue to toil, to sow and to gather, to trade, to build, to travel, to weep and to rejoice as before. Don’t we too realise how faith in Christ dead, risen and ascended into heaven does not provide any right special relief on the pain and anxieties that we all experience? Why then rejoice for the Ascension of Jesus? When one is enlightened by the faith of Jesus ascended, one sees the world with renewed eyes. All has new meaning. Nothing can sadden or frighten that person. One will begin to realise and understand that despite of all the human miseries, the Lord is building his kingdom of love and peace. We have seen it happening in Jesus: God did not stop him from being a victim of hate and injustice, but used the greatest human sin to realise his masterpiece of love and salvation.
We now believe that Jesus has returned to the Father and sent us his Spirit. Whom should we fear if our communities have received the force of God? And if success is assured, why not rejoice?
‘Acknowledgement and Thanks’ to ‘Recommended Source Material’ by:
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fr. Fernando Armellini SCI, Peter Edmonds SJ, Richard Baawobr M.Afr, Joseph A. Slattery Ph.D, Adelmo Spagnolo MCCJ, Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap, J.E. Spicer CSsR, John R. Donahue SJ and Alice Camille – Master’s degree in Divinity.
Reflections for each day this Week to lead us in the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life’.
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following
Ascension Sunday Year C, we reflect on …
Sun. … Are we vainly waiting for the imminent return of the Lord instead of looking down to earth and committing ourselves to seriously transform the world? Christians need to take religion as a stimulus to commit themselves seriously to improve the life and conditions of humankind. God is telling such disciples “stop looking up to heaven”, give proof of the authenticity of your faith right here on earth. Look up to the real goal in your life; set your sights directly toward the heavenly Father, your Creator. Blessed are those servants that the Lord, on his return, will find busy at work serving their brothers and sisters.
Mon. … The Ark of the Covenant was solemnly carried through Jerusalem to the Temple where God was greeted as the Lord Most High (Gn. 14-19) and as Great King. On Ascension Day, we apply it to Christ, now exalted in heaven as the Lord of all creation.
Tues. … The first reading invited the Christians not to overlook their practical and concrete responsibilities in this world. Now the second reading completes this point by telling Christians that they must never forget how their lives are not completely enclosed within the boundaries of this world and to grasp more deeply the treasures of their faith.
Wed. … Do we view the events following the Resurrection of Jesus in the four Gospels as a sequence of historical happenings? We need to see all the different aspects as part of the one mystery of the Resurrection and Exaltation of Jesus.
Thur. … The Gospel account is not a news report, but a catechetical lesson: using images well known to his readers, the writer is transmitting to us a clear message of faith. Let us see if wee too can get this message and so like them, be filled with joy. In prayer, rejoice at the gifts the Gospel has brought to your life.
Frid. … Jesus’ Ascension has not been a rising up, but the final entry of Christ into the glory of God. Jesus did not remain a prisoner of death as his enemies wanted. He was the first to cross through “the veil of the Temple” separating the world of men from the world of God and has shown that all that happens on earth: success or failure, injustice and sufferings do not escape the plan of God. If such is the fate of every person, then death is no longer a frightening event, because Jesus has transformed it into a new birth in the life of God.
Sat. … When one is enlightened by the faith of Jesus ascended, one sees the world with renewed eyes. All has new meaning. Nothing can sadden or frighten that person. One will begin to realize and understand that despite of all the human miseries, the Lord is building his kingdom of love and peace.
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Father, we pray that we may look at the world with new eyes and hearts so that we can fathom the greatness of the hope that we are called to. Father you are telling us to “stop looking up to heaven”, and to give proof of the authenticity of our faith right here on earth. May we always remember the words in the Gospel: “Blessed are those servants that the Lord, on his return, will find busy at work serving their brothers and sisters.”
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.
Compliments: Bible Discussion Group.
Our Lady of the Wayside, Maryvale.
“Discovering the Truth through God’s living Word”.