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Ascension of the Lord: May 29, 2022

Luke 24: 46-53

The Ascension is both an ending and a beginning. The Gospel from Luke today treats the ending of Jesus’ life on earth and his return to his Father. At the same time the first reading from Acts of the Apostles, also by Luke, is the beginning of the body of Christ, the Church, preparing the apostles for the reception of the Holy Spirit and the spreading of the Good News to all the world.

In Luke, on Easter morning, Mary Magdalene and the other women had gone to Jesus’ tomb and found it empty; they told the apostles who did not believe; Peter went to the tomb himself and saw it empty, yet his reaction was puzzlement - he was amazed. Right before this Sunday’s section of Luke’s Gospel, the apostles were in the upper room on Easter evening and the men from Emmaus come in to tell them of their experience of Jesus on the road and at the breaking of the bread. As they were telling their story, Jesus appears among them alive, then he spoke the words we read today: He opened their minds to understand all that the scriptures had to say about him. And they had said that the Christ “would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day; and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

There are several important points made here for the Christian of every time and place. First, this message stresses the reality of the resurrection. The risen Lord is real; the Jesus who died was really the Christ who rose again. The Christian faith is not founded on dreams, but on the fact that Jesus rose on the third day and conquered death. Secondly, this message stresses the necessity of the cross. The cross is not an accident or some last minute plan when things had gone wrong; it is the very sign of God’s love and shows just how much God does love and care for us. Thirdly, there is an urgency in what is now to be done with this message. This message of the conquering of death and forgiveness of sins is not to stay in Jerusalem, but has to be spread throughout the whole world. With the Ascension, the days of sorrow are over and the time for rejoicing is here; but the rejoicing must be taken to all nations. Fourthly, this message is not one of weakness but one of power. This power would come to the apostles and others in Jerusalem; it is there that the Holy Spirit would come to them and empower them for the demands that spreading the Good News would bring.

Now, this is where the first reading from Acts of the Apostles kicks in: “in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses.” Then, as Jesus was lifted up to heaven, and as he went up, two men in white said to them, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing here looking at the sky? This Jesus has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” So we have the ending and the beginning. This is true not only for the apostles, but for us also.

The Ascension applies to us in two ways: First, as St. Leo points out: “The Ascension of Christ thus means our own elevation as well.” With his resurrection, Jesus made us who believe his body through which his presence on earth is made possible. His very body ascended into heaven and is the promise of our own ascension to the Father now that death has been conquered and become a beginning not an end. So, today we celebrate not just an historical event, but our own future way of being with God. Second, as this body of Christ, we begin this ascension by going out as the first apostles did and tell the good news of Christ offering a new way for the world to be today. It is by making God’s kingdom present now that we are best Jesus’ body and carry out his presence and will. As we go out from Church today, we celebrate our future after our life here is over, and our present as the hands, mouth, and heart of Jesus Christ.

Fr. John Tran

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