Acts 1:12-14; Ps 27:1, 4, 7-8; 1 Peter 4:13-16; John 17:1-11a OR Ascension: Acts 1:1-11; Ps 47:2-3, 6-9; Ephesians 1:17-23. Option 2: Hebrews 9:24-28, 10:19-22; Matthew 28:16-20
Most states in our country transferred the Ascension from last Thursday to this Sunday except six states. Since these reflections are for an international audience on JoyAlive.net, I shall confine my reflections to the Ascension.
The readings for this Solemnity, in the three-year cycles, are the same except the gospel. This year A is from St. Matthew’s gospel. He does relate the Ascension story. Matthew combines the Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost in the Easter Sunday experience. In Matthew, Jesus did not appear to anyone after Easter Sunday until the end of the last chapter in Galilee, when Jesus gave the authority to teach and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 28:18b-20.
Matthew’s gospel was written in a Jewish milieu probably after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. He is more focused on the work and mission of Jesus. Then the focus is on the mission given to his primary students, the apostles, and their mission of teaching and evangelizing the whole world. This is still the mission of the whole Christian churches.
The Easter Season has been focused on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead after his crucifixion when he died to forgive the sins of all humanity and invite us into his final covenant with God, his new kingdom. Jesus appeared some 12 times before his return to his Father, 40 days after the resurrection. Pentecost is the close of the Easter celebrations.
St. Luke and Ascension
St. Luke is the only gospel that relates the Ascension in 24:50-51, “Then he led them out near Bethany, and with hands upraised, blessed them. As he blessed, he left them, and was taken up to heaven.” St. Luke further describes the Ascension in his second book, Acts of the Apostles, the first reading today, “While they were with him they asked, ‘Lord, are you going to restore the rule to Israel now?’ His answer was, ‘The exact time it is not yours to know. The Father has reserved that to himself. You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you; then you are to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes, even to the ends of the earth.’ No sooner had he said this than he was lifted up before their eyes in a cloud which took him from their sight,” Acts 1:6-8.
Lift up Jesus
The new Catechism of the Catholic Church, #662, says: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all people to myself,” John 12:32. The lifting up of Jesus on the cross signifies and announces his lifting up by his Ascension into heaven, and indeed begins it. Jesus Christ, the one priest of the new and eternal Covenant, “entered, not into a sanctuary made by human hands…but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf,“ Hebrews 9:24. There Christ permanently exercises his priesthood, for he “always lives to make intercession“ for “those who draw near to God through him,“ Hebrews 7:25. As “high priest of the good things to come,“ he is the center and the principal actor of the liturgy that honors the Father in heaven, Hebrews 9:11.
Let us continue to praise and worship Jesus, our Lord and Savior, as we ask for a greater outpouring of his Holy Spirit in our lives. He continues to instruct and guide us on our way to heavenly glory. Amen and Alleluia!
On this Memorial Day weekend, let us not forget those men and women who have given their lives for our nation. And also remember all those who put their lives in danger each day to keep us safe at home and around the world. Amen! Alleluia!
Have a good and safe week. Blessings,
+ Fr. Bob Hilz
(© 2017 Fr. Bob Hilz, TOR)