Scripture Readings: Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11; Saint Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 1:17-23; Gospel According to Saint Mark 16:15-20
We celebrate our Lord’s Ascension, taking place forty days after his resurrection. We recount with joy the day Christ completed his earthly mission and returned to the Father to reign in majesty and to be the judge of the living and the dead. It seems we just began our Paschal celebrations and now this joyful liturgical season is drawing to a close. That is how life seems to goes, cycle after cycle, what has been called an infinity of little hours. It is precisely there, in the midst of the mundane, that we are being invited to encounter the God who has not left us orphans, but lives among us and who loves us until the end of time.
Christ completed the Father’s work on earth as a mission of obedience to the will of God. Its purpose was and is to bring eternal life to every human being. We may ask: how do I feel about Christ’s obedience unto death, how does it touch me, and what role do I play in the mystery being celebrated on Ascension of the Lord? What is being asked of me as a follower of Christ?
Perhaps we may feel little or nothing of note to reply to these questions, but we must not think for a moment that the saving events of Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension have no meaning in our lives. We are all united to Christ and one another in the great mystery of salvation in Jesus Christ. We have “put on Christ,” Saint Paul tells us, by the fact of our baptism, so we cannot so easily walk away from the light and life being offered us in the Church. Of course, we have free will and cannot be stopped from rejecting God’s call, but the challenge is to cultivate God’s life within us in order to bear lasting fruit.
We all must learn throughout our earthly sojourn what it means to really belong to Christ, to forget ourselves that others may have, to take up our cross each day and embrace our vocation without compromise. We are asked to follow the Lord without fear or regret. This is no easy task, but with the help of God’s Holy Spirit, the promised Comforter, we can make progress in virtue and humility, asked of us by our having “put on Christ” at baptism.
In the celebration of the Lord’s Ascension we rejoice greatly for the assurance that future glory is realized in Jesus Christ and offered to the human race. This gift encourages us to desire deeply and always the glory of heaven. We wish to go to heaven where Christ has gone. The apostles are asked by the angels, “Why are you gazing in astonishment at the sky? Just as you have seen Him ascend into heaven, so, in like manner, shall He return” (Acts 1.11).
In the meantime, we are asked to put our hands to work and our hearts to God, doing the will of God, in preparation for the return of our Savior at our death and at Christ’s second coming in glory.
The Sacrament of the Eucharist is the source of strength for those who witness to Christ. We celebrate the Eucharist to dispose ourselves more completely to all that God has in store for those whom God loves and who love God. We ideally gather in a place of worship, where we ponder God’s mercy, learning how the suffering of Christ becomes a way to glory. Where Christ has gone we hope to follow. Each liturgical action is meant to lift us up further in joy and wonder for everything that God has accomplished on our behalf in Jesus Christ.
The risen and ascended Christ now reigns over creation, enabling the followers of Jesus to use their spiritual gifts for building up the body of Christ, the Church. The Ascension is linked to the Church’s mission in all ages and is part of the dynamism that makes Christ known from generation to generation, to the ends of the earth. May we never cease to thank God for bestowing such great gifts upon us individually and as a Church.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB