Ascension – Cycle A – 2017

FIRST READING            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.”

SECOND READING                  Ephesians 1:17-23

Brothers and sisters:  May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.  May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.

GOSPEL                Matthew 28:16-20

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.  When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.  Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

My sisters and brothers in the Lord,

“I am with you always, until the end of the age.”  Jesus is always with us.  The Holy Spirit is always with us.  The Father is always with us.  This is why we also celebrate a Solemnity of the Holy Trinity.  Today the focus is on Jesus leaving us in order to be with us in a different way.  We humans often do not like changes.  We don’t like people leaving us.  We don’t like people dying on us.  We like things to go on as they are—at least as long as things are relatively comfortable.

Jesus ascends and leaves His followers uncomfortable!  Something new is happening.  We can remember the dismay when Jesus was crucified—and hardly anyone believed in Him at all.  Then came Resurrection—and even that was difficult to believe.  We are all a bit like the Apostle Thomas.  We want things to behave in a normal way!  If things change, we want to prove them ourselves and not just trust others.

The first reading today is from the Acts of the Apostles and gives an account of the ascension.  It tells us that Jesus had to “prove” Himself to His followers and that He finally convinced them that He was truly alive and with them.  They still don’t understand but are waiting for Him to establish a Kingdom on this earth.  Jesus is clear now:  the Kingdom is within you.  With your faith, go and preach to others the Word of God.  The Holy Spirit will help you.

Then Jesus goes up and disappears from their sight.  There are two men dressed in white present, reminding the followers that Jesus will come back in the same way that He leaves.

The second reading is from the Letter to the Ephesians.  This letter tells us that God raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavens.  It is important for us to recognize that now Jesus is with the Father and has sent to us the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the new way of knowing the presence of Christ in our midst.

This brings us back to the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus sends His followers to baptize and to draw all peoples to Him.

These three readings all agree in the Ascension and in the understanding that Jesus must leave us in one way in order to be present to us in another way.  The challenge for us is to come to know the Lord in this new way.  It might have been easier in many ways to have known Jesus in the flesh—but there were many who knew Him and rejected Him as the Son of God.  We do not know Jesus in the flesh and  yet we are invited to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that Jesus died for us, that Jesus was raised for us and that Jesus has given us His Holy Spirit.

May our Father in Heaven show us how to believe and help us understand these great mysteries of our faith.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip