Michel de VerteuilGeneral Textual comments
The Ascension of Jesus was an essential stage in his relationship with this followers. He had walked with them in their moments of strength and of weakness, and now he was leaving them.
It is, of course, significant that this moment occurred immediately after his apparent defeat and after they had betrayed him.
By meditating on the story, we discover similar moments in our own relationship with God, with a cause, or with people who have touched our lives.
St Luke tells us the story in three sections:
– Verses 47 and 48 are the conclusion of a teaching by which Jesus “opened the minds of the apostles to understand the scriptures.” You can interpret “the scriptures” as referring to all traditional wisdom.
– Verse 49 stands by itself as a dramatic call to wait patiently until the moment of grace.
– Verses 50 to 53 are St Luke’s account of the Ascension; every word is symbolical.
Discover through your meditation the paradox of the apostles “returning to Jerusalem full of joy” after such a sorrowful parting.
Lord, we remember a time when we had given ourselves to a cause and became disillusioned:
– a trusted companion let us down,
– the political party we had joined was rejected at the polls,
– we turned away from an addiction but fell back into it,
– our Church community closed down a movement we had started.
Then something happened to make us realize that the movement was still alive:
– a new leader took charge,
– old companions returned and new ones joined us,
– in a moment of prayer we felt a new heart had been put into us.
It was as if Jesus had appeared to us and said,
“So you see how it is written that an Anointed One must suffer,
and only on the third day rise from the dead.”
“We have closed the book on apartheid.” F.W. De Klerk on television,18 March 1992
“Not yet, mister.” Response of an evangelical pastor
Lord, we pray for the people of South Africa,
and all those who are starting on the path of conversion.
Let them not forget how it is written
that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.
Lord, we would always prefer to preach the name of Jesus from a position of strength
-we have turned away from sin;
-we have completed a course of study and now understand the message;
-many people admire us.
Send Jesus to remind us that if we want repentance for the forgiveness of sins
to be preached to all the nations,
we must begin from Jerusalem where we betrayed our cause and were welcomed back.
Then we will be witnesses to your forgiveness.
“I continue to believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”Martin Luther King, accepting the Nobel Peace prize
Lord, we pray today for those who are tired of waiting for your grace
-parents with a child addicted to drugs,
-leaders working for Church renewal,
-third world people caught in the debt trap.
Though you are delaying, you are sending down what you promised,
so they must stay in the city until they are clothed with the power from on high.
“The person of prayer leads the world beyond the dichotomy of life and death and is therefore a witness to life.”
Lord, we thank you for the great people you have sent into our lives
– they widened our horizons,
– helped us to see new possibilities,
– showed us the implications of our sins.
Like Jesus with his disciples, they led us to the outskirts of where we lived,
lifted their hands and blessed us and then withdrew from us,
leaving us to return to our daily lives full of joy.
We were sad, of course, and felt tremendous respect for them,
but their being carried up to heaven did not destroy us.
We went back to Jerusalem full of joy,
and from then on we were continually in the temple praising you.
Introduction to the Celebration
The image we have of the Ascension is that of departing, going away, disappearing; but our belief as Christians is that it represents the silent presence of Christ everywhere in the universe. He is no longer limited by earthly conditions — to be in one place at one time in his presence to his followers — but now dwells in the heavens with the Father: present in every gathering of his people — so he is present among us now, present whenever his people are in need, present in hearts calling us to be disciples and to be his hands, and feet, and voice in our lives.
To celebrate this feast today is not to recall a past event — that day long ago ‘when he went up to heaven’ — but to rejoice that Jesus is our living Lord, with us now, leading and guiding us, because he is not tied down to a moment in earthly history.
Today we read the story — only found in Luke in his gospel which we are about to read now, and in his book of Acts which we have just read a few moments ago — of the mystery we are celebrating. Jesus commanded that the forgiveness of sins be preached to all and then was carried from their sight but was still with them in their hearts and in their gathering: that is how Jesus is with us here now, and still commanding us to make known the forgiveness of sins.
1. Preaching on the priesthood of Christ, and so of our identi~ as a priestly people, always seems such a difficult task tha most of us try to avoid it! Yet, if Ascension Day is our ritual celebration of his entry into the true heavenly sanctuary, just as Good Friday was the celebration of his sacrifice, his shed ding his blood for our reconciliation – and this in one of the classic ways that the tradition has understood this mystery then it is something we should not try to avoid. The temptation is to treat the Ascension as simply some sort of historic” recollection of ‘the final act’ of the earthly Jesus (see the Not on Ascension and Pentecost), and to forget that the theology ( c/f The letter to the Hebrews) is one of the basic ways by which we as Christian understand the mystery of the Cross.
2. However, to open up this vision of today, and of the sacrifice / redemption of Christ, we need a convenient vehicle. The liturgy provides just such an entry-point in today’s magnificent preface (Preface of the Ascension I, P 26; Missal, p. 429). So the homily could take the form of a meditation on that preface with a few glosses of explanation. Alas, when this preface is simply spoken out in the Liturgy of the Eucharist today, it is all over so quickly that its beauty and theology can be simply missed – so a meditation on upon it will prepare the assembly to appreciate it more when actually used.
3. Today the Lord Jesus, the king of Glory’ – we are speaking now about our living, risen Lord, we are not recalling an event two millennia ago. And, we are celebrating today through the mystery of our baptism we are being brought into the actual ascension now, for we are with Christ who is in the Father’s presence giving us and all people his reconciliation. The ascension is a means of giving us images that speak to us as image-loving-beings of what Christ’s love is all about.
The conqueror of sin and death.’ Jesus is the one who suffered and died on the Cross, and this shedding of blood showed his love and obedience to the Father and so has destroyed our death.
Ascended to heaven while the angels sang his praises.’ Our celebration today is that Jesus is the true high priest, higher than the angels (see Heb 1:5-13), who has entered the true temple – the Father’s presence.
‘Christ, the mediator … and Lord of all’. Jesus is priest and Lord.
‘Has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us but to be our hope.’ We are not abandoned nor do we look backwards, but look forwards with confidence because Jesus has prepared the way for us.
‘Christ is the beginning, the head of the church.’ We are united with him in baptism; we have been sprinkled with his pure water and are able to stand before the Father because we belong to him. We are a priestly people because he is our Way, our high priest.
And, the preface concludes with the pithiest statement of what is meant by Christian hope / confidence that is no mere optimism: ‘where he has gone, we hope to follow.’
This is why we can say in the line leading to the Sanctus (when we claim that our praises at this eucharistic assembly become joined with that of the heavenly assembly) that the joy of his resurrection and ascension renews the whole world: Christ the priest has reconciled the world to the Father, and soon we will celebrate the presence of the Spirit whom the Father has sent among us for the forgiveness of sins (see the formula of absolution).
4. When a text has been used with glosses as a meditation, it is then useful to conclude the meditation by reading the text through again from beginning to end without comment to let the hearers ‘own’ the words that have been commented upon.
This is the second description of the Ascension we read today. However, it differs from our first reading in that it marks the end of the gospel of Luke. So as Jesus departs he reminds them that they are witnesses to his ministry and to his death and resurrection. The final piece of this drama will unfold when he sends them the promised Holy Spirit through which they will be clothed with ‘power from on high’. Then after seeing him depart they return to Jerusalem, full of joy, continually praising God in the Temple. The themes of the joy, the praise of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit have been to the fore throughout Luke’s gospel, and it is only fitting that he should end his first volume on this note of fervour with the disciples eager to undertake their task.
We are reminded today that it is not the task of Christians to ‘”stand looking up into the sky’ either to mourn Jesus’ departure from earth or to simply await his return.
Our role until his Second Coming is to witness to him. This we do through recognising that we have indeed been clothed with power from on high. As his body, the church, we are to be Jesus’ continued presence on earth bringing freedom, healing and forgiveness to all who long to know the true God.
Donal Neary S.J.
It’s the same with Jesus. In our hearts and the depths of our personality he makes a home for himself and the Father. He asks for a loving and welcoming heart not a place that is perfect tidy and clean. To make a home is a work of love. Jesus’ making of a home in us comes through our growth and development in love. The loving marriage and family the loving friendship, the heart that cares for others, these are what make Jesus feel at home.
Is this a strange way of looking on God. We think of God in the power of nature and almost the maker of history. God seems to reject this all-powerful view of himself and makes accessible in the home of our hearts.
Home is a place of help. We look out for each other, and the content home is where each cares for the other. St Ignatius used say each day, ‘Who can I help today?’ Maybe we can make that part of the music of our homes. This is God helping through you, and it is God finding us and each other in love.
From the Connections:
Today’s readings include two accounts of Jesus' return to the Father by the same writer:
Reading 1 is the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke's “Gospel of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus’ Ascension begins volume 2 of Luke’s work. The words and images here invoke the First Covenant accounts of the ascension of Elijah (2 Kings 2) and the forty years of the Exodus: Luke considers the time that the Risen Lord spent with his disciples a sacred time, a “desert experience” for the apostles to prepare them for their new ministry of preaching the Gospel of the Resurrection.
Responding to their question about the restoration of Israel, Jesus discourages his disciples from guessing what cannot be known. Greater things await them as his “witnesses.” In the missionary work awaiting them, Christ will be with them in the presence of the promised Spirit.
Whereas in Acts Luke places Jesus' Ascension 40 days after Easter, in his Gospel the Ascension takes place on Easter night. Luke treats the same event from two points of view: in the Gospel, the Ascension is the completion of Jesus' Messianic work; in Acts, it is the prelude to the Church's mission.
Christ places his Church in the care of a rag-tag collection of fishermen, tax collector and peasants – it is not a very promising start for the new Church. And yet, what began with those eleven has grown and flourished through the centuries to the very walls of our own parish family.
The Church Jesus leaves to them is rooted not in buildings or wealth or formulas of prayer or systems of theology but in faith nurtured in the human heart, a faith centered in joy and understanding that is empowering and liberating, a faith that gives us the strength and freedom to be authentic and effective witnesses of the Risen One, who is present among us always.
The words Jesus addresses to his disciples on the mountain of the Ascension are addressed to all of us two millennia later. We are called to teach, to witness and to heal in our own small corners of the world, to hand on to others the story that has been handed on to us about Jesus and his Gospel of love and compassion.
The work of trust
There are people we entrust with our lives — or a big part of our lives, anyway.
We entrust the education and care of our children to teachers and coaches.
We entrust our retirement savings and college funds to financial managers.
We entrust the structural security and efficient operation of our homes to contractors, electricians and plumbers.
Firefighters, police, doctors and nurses — all professionals we entrust with our health and safety.
We trust these folks because they have demonstrated a sense of responsibility and competence in their fields and have proven that will act in our interests.
And there are many people who have entrusted some part of their lives to us: our employers, our clients, our friends — and, most important of all, our families and children.
It is no small thing to be entrusted as such.
It means putting aside our own interests to seek what is best for those who have placed their confidence in us.
It begins by understanding and appreciating what they want to make of their lives and their expectations for the future.
To entrust some part of our lives to another requires letting go, respecting their expertise and competence, accepting the reality that some things will go wrong or fail, that nothing is forever.
And to accept the responsibility of taking on what someone entrusts to us requires patience, understanding – and being ready and willing to say what they may not want to hear, but have to.
Such trust, such commitment, is sacred.
Today, on the mount of the Ascension, Jesus entrusts to us his life, his Gospel of healing, compassion, reconciliation and hope. Having given his life to reveal the love of God for all of us, he entrusts that work to you and me. He commissions us to be his “witnesses” and to continue his work — with all its risks and despite all our doubts. The work of building his church of reconciliation and love requires of us humility, respect, patience; it asks us to let go of our own interests and wants to open our hearts to change and a willingness to cope with that change. In baptism, every Christian of every time and place takes on the role of witness to all that Jesus did and taught. We are witnesses not only in our articulating the powerful words of the Gospel but in the quiet, simple, but no less powerful expressions of compassion and love that echo the same compassion and love of God — God who is Father and Son and Brother and Sister to us all.
Fr. Jude Botelho:
As we move from one stage of life to another we are forced at some point to let go of?past ways and move on adopting newer patterns of behavior. As infants we had to be carried and fed, as children we had to hold our parents hands as we moved about. As teenagers we tended to be independent yet we needed guidance and help sometimes. As adults we believe we can manage on our own. But in our faith relationship we always need God and cannot manage
without Him. At the Ascension we are given a new presence of God within us! Have an exciting weekend discovering his new presence in us!
The first reading begins with the first chapter of the first book of the Acts, that links the birth of the Church to the moment Jesus is taken up to heaven, reminding us that the Church itself is the new presence of Jesus in our midst. Lest the disciples think that they can manage by themselves relying on their own resources, they are ordered not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the promise of the Father. For us who are used to action, one of the most difficult things is to wait for God to act. The apostles?wanted to know God's plan and hope that they will have some say in how God's plan will work out. If we look at our own experiences we are forever making plans for ourselves and for how God should act in our lives. We sometimes even set deadlines for when God should act in our lives. Our plans usually rotate around:??'I', 'me', and 'myself', while God has still more wonderful plans, which will unfold if we wait on him.
How did you know what's in there?
A young lad was on his way to school and as he passed the sculptor's yard, he noticed a huge block of marble on a stand, and the sculptor was getting ready to begin a new project. The young lad had to continue on his way and he was disappointed to discover that the front doors of the sculptor's workshop were closed every day after that, as he passed by on his way to and from school. Each day however as he passed, he could hear the sound of chisel and hammer, and he knew the work was progressing. He longed for the day for the front doors to be open again, and his curiosity would be satisfied by discovering what the task in hand was. The great day finally arrived. One morning, on his way to school, he found the front doors open, and wandered in for a look. He was awe-struck to discover that where the original block of marble had been; there was now a figure of a tiger, huge, menacing and very life-like. The lad continued to stare at this for some moments, in total amazement. Then he turned to the sculptor, and, in total innocence, asked: "Excuse me, sir, but, but, how did you know there was a tiger in there?" - Love sees the possibilities and faith realises them!
Jack McArdle in 'And that's the Gospel Truth!'
In the Gospel we have Jesus bidding farewell to his disciples. He makes them understand the recent happenings and how they fit into the Father's plan. "He opened their minds to understand the scriptures. That the Messiah had to suffer, and to rise again from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to
be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. "The Spirit comes to give us the gift of understanding." The Word of God comes alive and makes sense when we can see how it connects to our life, when we see that it all fits in. But in order to understand we have to stay until we are filled, renewed, recreated by the Spirit. "Stay here in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." We may have wonderful ideas and?plenty of experience and feel that we can manage with what we have. But if we are ready to wait, if we are ready to surrender to the Spirit, something still more wonderful will happen in our life. The gospel concludes with Jesus blessing his disciples, withdraws from their sight and was carried into heaven. His mission was accomplished, now theirs was about to begin!
It is time we got busy
The Ascension was Jesus' last show up to his disciples. They watched in amazement as Jesus was carried up into the heaven. Their necks were bent and sore, their hands shielding their eyes from the glare of the sun as they starred open-mouthed into the sky. "What is going on now?" they must have thought. As they stood there in silence, staring up at the sky as Jesus disappeared from their view. Well, in case they were not, in fact, listening to Jesus right before he left, they certainly listened a few minutes later when two men in white robes suddenly appeared before them and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?" Why are you standing around hurting your necks like that? You are not accomplishing anything just standing there! Weren't you listening to Jesus? It's time to get busy... You are the witnesses. The whole adventure of following Jesus is not about accommodating to the expectations of this world; it is about being witnesses, so that the transformation going on in you, can go on in those around you, in this city, in this world. No more looking up to the sky in expectation of a show. You are the witnesses, and you should be busy about the business of transformation.
John Payappilly in 'The Table of the Word'
Scripting the Transformation
It was June 1989, and you probably remember it. For months there had been organized protests by students, intellectuals and labour activists in the People's Republic of China, protests calling for reform of Government policies limiting freedom. Early in the morning of June 4, the people's Liberation Army sent troops and tanks into the middle of the protests, into Tiananmen Square to crush protests and disperse the
crowds. The massacre was heartbreaking.
Reports vary on the number of protesters who had died that day in Tiananmen Square, but most put the numbers in the thousands. Organizers who had worked to ensure peaceful protests were stunned and the whole world watched in horror as the situation unfolded. Early the next morning, June 5, Associated Press photographer Jeff Widener was looking off his balcony on the sixth floor of the Beijing Hotel. He suddenly saw, about half a mile away, a column of four army tanks making their way down the Chang An Da Jie, the "Great Avenue of Everlasting Peace". He pulled out his camera, attached a very powerful lens and trained it on the scene unfolding in front of him. The picture he took, called 'Tank Man' by some, was broadcast all over the world just a few hours later. It was a picture of four huge army tanks lined up in succession on the road. Right in front of the first tank there stands a man, one lone man wearing a white shirt and black pants and holding a bag in his hand. As the tanks came to a stop it appeared that the man was trying to wave them away. The front tank then tried to change course and steer around the man, but he kept moving to stand in front of the tank as a sign of resistance. Witnesses say that the man finally climbed up on the top of the lead tank to talk to the driver. "Why are you here?" he reportedly asked. "My city is in chaos because of you. Go back, turn around, and stop killing my people." -If you were to look at this picture you would see such a striking image. You would see the long line of formidable war machinery lined up ready to attack. And you would see very clearly the form of one lone man blocking the progress of violence. This is the image of the kind of transformation Jesus was inviting his disciples to participate in. If we are followers of Jesus, then we cannot afford to stand around. The Gospel of Jesus is the way of transformation, and the invitation we received
from Jesus is to be different, to live our lives ushering in the reign of God. It is time we got busy.
Amy Butler in 'Scripting the Transformation'
The Spirit -The Key
Zig Ziglar tells the story about an elderly man playing an organ in a cathedral in Europe. He was playing sad and melancholy music. It was sad because this was his last day as organist of the cathedral. He was being replaced by a younger musician. At dusk, somebody stepped into the cathedral. Seeing the younger man, the organist stopped playing, locked the organ and slipped the key into his pocket. He was approached by the young man, who simply said, "Please, the key."? On receiving the key, the young organist went to the organ and
began to play. While the old man had played beautifully and skilfully, the young man played with sheer genius. Music such as the world had never heard came rolling out of that beautiful old organ. This was the world's introduction to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.??The old man, with tears in his eyes, said, "Suppose -- just suppose -- I had not given the master the key!"
His inspiration to carry out his work
Leonardo da Vinci had started to work on a large canvas in his studio. For a while he worked at it -choosing the subject, planning the perspective, sketching the outline, applying the colours, with his own inimitable genius. Then suddenly he
ceased, the painting still unfinished,
and summoning one of his students, invited him to complete the work. The student protested that he was both unworthy and unable to complete the great painting, which the master had begun. But da Vinci silenced him. "Will not what I have done inspire you to do your best?" - Jesus our Master began His Good News two thousand years ago -by what he said, by what he did, and supremely by what He suffered. He illustrated His message and has left us to complete the picture. This is the message of the Ascension.
John Rose in 'John's Sunday Homilies'
ILLUSTRATIONS FROM FR. TONY KADAVIL AND OTHERS:
The angel Gabriel asked, “Well, now that you are back in Heaven, who will continue your work on earth?" Jesus said, "While I was on earth, I gathered a group of people around me who believed in me and loved me. They will continue to spread the Gospel and carry on the work of the Church.” Gabriel was perplexed. "You mean Peter, who denied you thrice and all the rest who ran away when you were crucified? You mean to tell us that you left them to carry on your work? And what will you do if this plan doesn't work?" Jesus said, "I have no other plan -- it must work." Truly, Jesus has no other plan than to depend on the efforts of his followers!
4) Great commissions: