Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11
In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
Brothers and sisters, I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore, it says: He ascended on high and took prisoners captive; he gave gifts to men. What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended into the lower regions of the earth? The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature to manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ.
Gospel Cycle Cycle B
Jesus said to his disciples: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.
This Sunday in many parts of the world, we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord. This is one of the great solemnities of the Church because it is one of the great events in the resurrected life of our Lord Jesus.
The first reading is very clear about what happened! Jesus appeared alive to His disciples after He had died on the cross and had been buried. In these appearances, He spoke intimately with His followers about the kingdom of God and its demands on them. And Jesus tells His followers finally to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit that would be sent to them.
The Gospel is even clearer about the demands on the followers of Jesus: they must preach the Gospel to others and certain signs will accompany those who believe: in the name of Jesus they will drive out demons; they will speak new languages; they will pick up serpents with their hands; if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.
Probably a hundred years ago, most Catholics, even most Christians, would have read this list of signs and simply passed over it—perhaps with a passing thought that these things belonged to the early Church. Today, with the strong presence of the charismatic element in most Christian Churches, most of us are more comfortable with several items in the list. Probably we are not comfortable with picking up serpents in our hands or drinking deadly things!!
The real point of such a list is that with faith in Christ we can do what is impossible to a person without faith.
The Ascension changes the focus of the faith of the early Church away from the presence of Christ in His own body or in His resurrected body. The focus of the Church after the Ascension is on the presence of Christ in those who believe. Yes, of course, we still have the stunning presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist! However, we who believe now become His mouth for preaching, His hands for healing, His eyes for seeing and His feet for walking.
In another closely related image, Jesus becomes the heart of His mystical body and we the members. In yet another image, Jesus becomes the inner life of His Church and we become the incarnation of Jesus in the world.
Thus we can see clearly in the Ascension an enormous change in how God will work in the world in Jesus Christ and His followers. Thus the second reading, from the Letter to the Ephesians, picks up this same change and echoes it when it says: “And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature to manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ.”
The Ascension is about the building up of the body of Christian, about attaining the unity of faith and knowledge in Jesus, about maturing in Christ and about becoming completely alive in Jesus Christ. It is not simply a story of the past and yet it points us clearly to the coming of the Spirit so that we, the Church, can become what we are supposed to be in Christ: His divine presence for all those who do not yet believe and His pardoning presence for those of us who do believe and yet fail.
We can ask today for a deepening of unity within the Church; for reconciliation among the many Christian Churches; for a profound understanding of the role of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, the Holy Father; and especially for the courage to live our faith in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the joy of being saved in Christ.