I've always found it difficult to preach on the Feast of the Ascension.
Easter is fading into our memories and we are beginning our preparations for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Also, there are 3-4 different accounts of Christ's Ascension in the New Testament.
St. John sees Christ ascending into Heaven, immediately after his death on the Cross, to be glorified by His Heavenly Father.
St. Luke tells us that as Christ was dying on the Cross, he told the repentant thief:
"This day you will be with me in paradise".
The implication is that Christ ascended immediately into Heaven.
In his Gospel, St. Luke describes Christ ascending into Heaven on Easter Sunday evening. (Lk. 24:50-53).
In this morning's 1st. Reading, this same St. Luke describes Christ's ascent into Heaven 40 days after his Resurrection.
In this morning's Gospel, St. Matthew’s describes Christ ascending into Heaven from a mountain some where in Galilee.
All of this leaves one with the question: When did Christ actually enter Heaven to be glorified by the Father.
But, the important question is not when: the important matter is that Christ actually did ascend into Heaven to be glorified by his Heavenly Father with the glory he had before the world began.
1st. Reading ( Acts 1:1-11)
This morning’s 1st. Reading is the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles. The author refers to a 1st. Book which we know as the Gospel of St. Luke. Both books are dedicated to Theophilus.
According to ancient custom, the person to whom a Book is dedicated was expected to assume the financial burden of publishing the book. (Acts. p. 38).
That, plus the fact that he is addressed as “your excellency” (Lk. 1:3, Acts. 23:26, 24:3, 26:25) makes it likely that Theophilus was a person of position and means. (Acts. P. 38).
St. Luke then goes on to give a brief summary of his 1st. Book -- his Gospel.(vv. 1-3).
Before he was taken up to Heaven, Christ appeared to his Apostles over a period of 40 days, giving them proof that He, the Risen Christ, is truly the Crucified Christ.
He commanded his Apostles to stay in Jerusalem, until they were empowered by the Holy Spirit. (v. 4).
(a). Kingdom of God
During his public ministry, Christ frequently spoke (Lk. 4:43, 7:28) to his Apostles about the “Kingdom of God”, but they did not understand what he meant.
They looked on the Kingdom as an earthly kingdom, which would overthrow the Roman authorities.
And of course, in this new "Kingdom of God” they saw themselves as occupying important positions.
On the road to Damascus, 2 discouraged disciples, expressed their disappointment in Jesus of Nazareth.
They said - "We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel".
Even at this late stage, St. Luke’s tells us that the Apostles are still looking for a Political Messiah.
Just before his Ascension, they ask Jesus:
“Lord, are you, at this time, going to restore the Kingdom of Israel?”.
The disciples lack of understanding of who Jesus of Nazareth is & the mission given to Him by His Heavenly Father is amazing.
They have spent 3 years in his company & yet they did not know who he was or what his mission was. Christ must have been a very patient Person!
In his response, Christ says that the things of the future are not revealed to human beings. (cf. 1Cor. 13:12, Lk. 21:8-9).
The Father alone knows & fixes “times and seasons” by his own authority. (v. 7, 17:26, Acts p. 42).
Despite the predictions of some religious groups, nobody knows when the world will end.
Because of the uncertainty of the time of death, Christ tells us to watch & pray for we do not know the day nor the hour.
(b). Witnesses To Christ
V. 8 -- Christ goes on to tell his Apostles that they will be filled with the Holy Spirit & will be his witnesses, not only in Jerusalem, but throughout Judea & Samaria and indeed to the ends of the earth.
While Christ confined his preaching to "the lost sheep of the House of Israel", (Mt. 10:5 & 15:24) the Apostles will bear witness to Christ “all the way to the end of the earth”.
At first, the Apostles may have thought that the Good News was meant only for Jews scattered all over the world.
But, from the experiences of Sts. Peter (10:45) and Paul (13:46-47), the Early Church gradually realized that the Good News was meant for all peoples -- Gentiles as well as Jews. (Acts p. 42).
After commanding his Apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit, Christ ascends into Heaven.
St. Luke uses the phrases “he was lifted up” & “a cloud took him out of their sight” to describe the Ascension. (1:9).
In Scripture, a “cloud” often signifies the presence & power of God. (Acts p. 43).
Here the "cloud" is a vehicle carrying Christ to Heaven. (Sac. Pag. p. 27).
The role of the 2 men, who stood by them in white garments, is to interpret the Ascension. Christ is ascending into Heaven to be enthroned at the right hand of the Father. (2:34).
By using the phrase “He has been taken up from you into Heaven”, St. Luke is telling Theophilus & all of us that Christ’s post-Resurrection appearances have come to an end.
By pulling down the curtain on Christ’s post-Resurrection appearances, St. Luke is now ready to tell the second half of his story
– the descent of the Holy Spirit & the spread of Christianity throughout the then known world.
One Act of Reconciliation
On Good Friday, we commemorate Christ’s Passion & death
On Easter Sunday, we celebrate his Resurrection.
This weekend, we celebrate his ascension & glorification at the right hand of the Father.
Because we celebrate Christ's Death, Resurrection & Ascension at different times, we are inclined to separate them in our own minds as well.
But Christ's Death, Resurrection & Ascension are merely 3 aspects of the one act of reconciliation.
Christ's death would be meaningless without his Resurrection.
As St. Paul reminds us, if Christ is not risen from the dead, our faith is in vain & we are still in our sins.
And Christ's Resurrection would be incomplete without Christ entering Heaven and taking his place at the right hand of God, the Father. (cf. Heb. 12:3; Acts 5:31).
These 3 aspects of the one act of Redemption are united in one of the Acclamations we say after the Consecration:
“Dying you destroyed our death
Rising you restored our life
Lord Jesus, come in glory”.
So, while we distinguish Christ’s death, Resurrection and Ascension, we should never separate them. They are 3 aspects of the one act of Redemption.
St. Luke is the only Evangelist who tells us that Christ ascended into Heaven 40 days after his Resurrection.
Since the no. 40 was a very symbolic number for the people of ancient Israel, it isn't always to be taken literally. (cf. Ex. 34:28, Deut. 8:2, Ps. 90:10, 1Kgs. 19:8, Sac. Pag. p. 25).
On their journey to the Promised Land, the Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the desert.
Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai. Christ fasted for 40 days in the desert.
By saying that Christ ascended into Heaven 40 days after his Resurrection, St. Luke is putting a symbolic ending to Christ's appearances to his Apostles after his Resurrection.
He is, as it were, closing the chapter on Christ’s appearances after his Resurrection.
St. Luke wants Christ off center stage so that he can begin the 2nd. half of his story – the descent of the Holy Spirit & the spread of Christianity throughout the then known world.
St. Paul & Christ’s Exaltation
In many places in his Epistles, St. Paul speaks of Christ's exaltation at the right hand of the Father.
In his Letter to the Philippians, St. Paul speaks of how God exalted Christ on high and gave him the name which is above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend. (Phil. 2:10).
To quote the words of St. Paul:
“Because of his obedience even unto death, God greatly exalted Him & bestowed on Him the name
that is above every other name that, at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend
of those in Heaven & on earth & under that earth
& every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father”.
In this morning's 2nd. Reading, he speaks of the power of God, who raised Christ from the dead and made him sit at His right hand. (Eph. 1:21).
St. Paul tells the Colossians that they are to "look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is sitting at God's right hand”. (Col.3:1).
The Glorified Christ, now seated at the right hand of the Father, is always praying and interceding on our behalf. (Lk. 16:17).
Christ began his self-offering on Calvary but He continues to offer himself to the Father on our behalf in eternity.
We are all familiar with the 3rd. Preface of Easter:
“He is still our priest -- our advocate who always pleads our cause!
Christ is the Victim who dies no more -- the Lamb, once slain, who lives forever.
Do we sometimes forget that the Glorified Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father, where he is always praying and interceding on our behalf?
We pray to the Blessed Virgin and the Saints and rightly so. But, the Glorified Christ is the one specially chosen by the Father to be our advocate & intercessor with Himself.
All our Liturgical prayers are presented to the Father through Christ, with Christ & in Christ.
The Book of Revelation tells us that the Glorified Christ, surrounded by the Angels & Saints, day and night sing the praises of God – “Holy, holy is the Lord, God Almighty”.
It is our privilege, through the celebration of the Eucharist, to be able to join in that Heavenly Liturgy.
It is our privilege, through the celebration of the Eucharist, to be able to join our hearts & prayers with those of the Angels & Saints and present them to the Father through Christ, with Christ and in Christ
We acknowledge our participation in this Heavenly Liturgy, every time we say in the Preface:
“Through Christ, the angels of Heaven offer their prayer of adoration
as they rejoice in your presence forever.
May our voices be one with theirs in their triumphant hymn of praise.
It is because all our prayers are presented to the Father through Christ, with Christ and in Christ that the celebration of the Eucharist is so pleasing to God, the Father.
Over the years, I'm sure you have heard: "One Mass is better than a 1,000 private prayers". Now you know why
In the Mass all our prayers are presented to the Farther through Christ, with Christ & in Christ.