May 16, 2021: The Ascension of the Lord - Pastor's Corner
“Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)
After Jesus’ Resurrection, the disciples have big hopes. They expect that the effect of Easter will be the restoration of Israel as an independent nation of prominence. Their hopes are in Jesus as a political and economic Messiah. Jesus responds by reminding his disciples that their mission is all about the salvation of souls. The apostles are called to be witnesses to the miraculous events of Jesus life, death and Resurrection. Jesus’ Easter promise is not any political or economic benefit, but the gift of the power of God in their lives.
Jesus’ Ascension activates this Easter promise. Traditionally celebrated forty days after his Resurrection (Ascension Thursday), Jesus is “lifted up” from the earth to the glory of heaven. The Ascension marks the culminating marriage of humanity with divinity as Jesus enters body and soul into heaven. Now once and for all, humanity sits at “the right hand of the Father” and intercedes for us all. Jesus’ ascension is the supreme moment of hope, pointing to our ultimate vocation. Where He once was, we now are; where He is now, we are destined to be.
And yet questions remain. Like the apostle we might wonder where the effects of Easter are in our lives. Just as the apostle had expectations and queries about the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel, we too wonder when God will respond to the challenges of our own day. “When will this pandemic be over?” “When will life be normal again?” “When will God come down from heaven and fix this mess of a world?” Jesus’ response to us is exactly what he tells the disciples. After instructing his disciples to preach, teach and baptize all nations, he reassures them with the promise “know that I am with you always.” And then he leaves, He ascends. With good reason, we wonder how Jesus’ Ascension does not vitiate His promise to be with us. At first glance, the Ascension seems to be Jesus absenting himself from the cares and challenges of earthly life.
This leads us to the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel of John, Jesus explains the Ascension when He says: I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go, for if I do not go, my Spirit, the Counselor, will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you (Jn 16:7). Jesus ascends so that He can send His Spirit into our heart. This is why he instructs His followers to return to Jerusalem and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Christ promises: “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” In order to fulfill His command to be witnesses to the Gospel, the disciples need the empowerment of the Spirit.
In sum, celebrating the Ascension reminds us of our final home while challenging us to discover where the Spirit is alive in our daily lives. In order to receive the Spirit, we must follow the example of Mary and the disciples, who after the Ascension, returned to the Upper Room of the Last Supper to wait for the spirit of promise. This original novena (there are traditionally nine days between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday) prepared the minds and hearts of the disciples to be open to the promptings of the Spirit. In these days when we are beginning to return to public worship and the sacraments, we might see this week as a time to prepare ourselves for a Holy Spirit renewal. This week, let us take time to reflect on how we can better open ourselves to the promptings of the Spirit, that we might discover Christ afresh in our lives at Pentecost!
~ Fr. Michael