SYNOPSIS OF THE HOMILY ON THE ASCENSION OF OUR LORD (Mt 28: 16-20)
Introduction: Today’s readings describe the Ascension of the Lord Jesus into his Heavenly glory after promising his disciples the Holy Spirit as their source of Heavenly power, and after commanding them to bear witness to him by their lives and by preaching throughout the world. But the ascended Jesus is still with us through the indwelling Holy Spirit as he has promised, “I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.” Today’s feast is a celebration of Jesus’ glory after his suffering and death – a glory in which we also hope to share.
The scripture lessons: The first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, describes the scene of Jesus’ Ascension, his promise of the Holy Spirit, his instruction to the apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the power from above and his missionary command to his apostles to bear witness to him. In the second reading, St. Paul amplifies this message, saying, “May God enlighten the eyes of our heart so that we may know the great hope to which we have been called.” Paul teaches us that God revealed His might in the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ and in his exaltation over all angelic forces. Jesus remains accessible to us now in the life-giving Holy Spirit. Today’s gospel tells us that, with his return to the Father, Jesus completed his mission on earth. But just before his Ascension, he entrusted to his disciples the mission of preaching and teaching the Good News and evangelizing the whole world by bearing witness to him through their lives. In the descriptions of Christ after his Resurrection, we are given a hint of what life will be like in Heaven. But it is in his Ascension that we see him entering fully into the life and glory of God. The prospect of sharing in that glory should be the driving force of our lives.
Life messages: 1) We need to be proclaimers and evangelizers: To be a Christian is to be a proclaimer and an evangelizer. There is a difference between preaching and proclaiming. We preach with words but we proclaim with our lives. Let us ask the guidance of the Holy Spirit to bear witness to Jesus by our transparent Christian lives. 2) We have a teaching mission: Jesus taught us lessons of Faith, Hope, Love, forgiveness, mercy and salvation by his life and preaching and gave us the mission to teach these to others. Hence, let us learn about Jesus and his teachings by our daily study of the Bible and the teachings of the Church, experience him in personal prayer, reception of the Sacraments and works of charity, and, with the help of his Holy Spirit, convey to others Jesus whom we have experienced. 3) The ascended Jesus is our source of strength and encouragement: We will be able to overcome doubts about our Faith and baseless fears, anxieties and worries by meditating on Jesus’ Ascension and the lesson it teaches that we, too, are called to share Jesus’ glory in Heaven.)
THE FEAST OF ASCENSION OF OUR LORD –
(Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Mt 28:16-20)
Anecdote #1: Solar Power: One of the national coordinators of Sun Day held early in May every year is Denis Hayes. He worked as researcher at a Washington D.C. ‘think-tank’ and has written a book on solar energy entitled Rays of Hope: The Transition to a Post-Petroleum World. Hayes claims that we are at the crossroads of making a critical choice for mankind – the choice between going solar or going nuclear for a power source. Hayes opts for the sun because it is “the world’s only inexhaustible, predictable, egalitarian, non-polluting, safe, terrorist-resistant and free energy source.” We’ve already learned to use the power of the sun to grow food, make wine and operate greenhouses. All we need to do is develop better technology to harness solar energy to heat houses, drive our cars and run our industry. People like Hayes are looking at the sky with its sun as the main source of our future energy supply. Today we turn our attention to the sky for another reason – to commemorate our Lord’s Ascension into Heaven. In the first reading, taken from Acts, Jesus makes a promise, “You will receive Power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you.” That Spirit is the power source that can give all the energy we need to live our lives to the full. (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds).
#2: The Unfinished Painting: Leonardo da Vinci had started to work on a large canvas in his studio. For a while he worked at it – choosing the subject, planning the perspective, sketching the outline, applying the colors, with his own inimitable genius. Then suddenly he stopped working on it. Summoning one of his talented students, the master invited him to complete the work. The horrified student protested that he was both unworthy and unable of completing the great painting which his master had begun. But da Vinci silenced him. “Will not what I have done inspire you to do your best?” Jesus our Master began to spread the Good News two thousand years ago by what he said and did and, supremely, by what he suffered. He illustrated his message and he has left us to finish the picture. Will his life not inspire us to finish the picture? This is the message of the Ascension (John Rose in John’s Sunday Homilies).
# 3: “I have no other plan — it must work.” A beautiful old story tells of how Jesus, after his Ascension into Heaven, was surrounded by the angels who began to enquire about his work on earth. Jesus told them about His birth, life, preaching, death and Resurrection, and how he had accomplished the salvation of the world. The Archangel Gabriel asked, “Well, now that you are back in Heaven, who will continue your work on earth?” Jesus said, “While I was on earth, I gathered a group of people around me who believed in me and loved me. They will continue to spread the Gospel and carry on the work of the Church.” Gabriel was perplexed. “You mean Peter, who denied you thrice and all the rest who ran away when you were crucified? You mean to tell us that you left them to carry on your work? And what will you do if this plan doesn’t work?” Jesus said, “I have no other plan — it must work.” Truly, Jesus has no other plan than to depend on the efforts of his followers!
# 4; The disciples who completed Puccini’s opera Turandot. The Italian composer Giacomo Puccini wrote, among other operas, La Boheme, Madama Butterfly and Tosca. It was during his battle with terminal cancer in 1922 that he began to write Turandot, which many now consider his best work. He worked on the score day and night, despite his friends’ advice to rest, and to save his energy. When his sickness worsened, Puccini said to his disciples, “If I don’t finish Turandot, I want you to finish it.” He died in 1924, leaving the work unfinished. His disciples gathered all that was written of Turandot, studied it in great detail, and then proceeded to write the remainder of the opera. The world premier was performed in La Scala Opera House in Milan in 1926, and Toscanini, Puccini’s favorite student, conducted it. The opera went beautifully, until Toscanini came to the end of the part written by Puccini. He stopped the music, put down the baton, turned to the audience, and announced, “Thus far the master wrote, but he died.” There was a long pause; no one moved. Then Toscanini picked up the baton, looked at the audience and, with tears in his eyes, announced, “But his disciples finished his work.” The opera closed to thunderous applause and to a permanent place in the annals of great works. Jesus instructs us in his Ascension message to finish his work of saving mankind by proclaiming His Good News by words and deeds.
Introduction: Today’s readings describe the Ascension of the Lord Jesus into his Heavenly glory after promising the Holy Spirit as the source of Heavenly power for his disciples and after commanding them to bear witness to him by their lives and preaching throughout the world. What is celebrated is Jesus’ exaltation and the end of his earthly existence as a prelude to the gift of the Spirit. Matthew’s Gospel begins with the promise of Emmanuel – God is with us; it concludes with the promise of the Risen Christ, “I am with you always, even to the end of time.” The ascended Jesus is still with us because of his promise, “I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.” He is with us at all times and in all places, releasing a new energy upon the earth, the energy of the Holy Spirit to preach his Good News of salvation by bearing witness to him. Hence, today’s feast is the celebration of Jesus’ glory after his suffering and death – the glory in which we also hope to share. The Ascension and Pentecost, taken together, mark the beginning of the Church. The feast of the Ascension tells us that the Church must be a community in mission, guided by the Holy Spirit and confident of God’s protection even amid suffering and death. Jesus’ Ascension is both an ending and a beginning. The physical appearances of Jesus are at an end; his revelation of the “Good News” is complete; the promise of the Messiah is fulfilled. Now begins the work of the disciples to teach what they have learned and to share what they have witnessed. The first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, describes the scene of Jesus’ Ascension, his promise of the Holy Spirit, and his missionary command to bear witness to him throughout the world. In the second reading, St. Paul explains the theological meaning of Jesus’ exaltation. He amplifies this message by saying, “May God enlighten the eyes of our heart so that we may know the great hope to which we have been called.” Although risen and ascended, Jesus is still with us through the power of the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Bible, in the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, and in the praying community. He remains accessible to us now with every prayer and every breath, if we so choose. Today’s Gospel tells us that, with his return to the Father, Jesus has completed his mission on earth. In the descriptions of Christ after his Resurrection, we are given a hint of what life will be like in Heaven. But it is in his Ascension that we see him entering fully into the life and glory of God. The prospect of sharing that glory should be the driving force of our lives.
The first reading: Acts 1:1-11 describes how Jesus interacted with his disciples for forty days after his Resurrection. He instructed his disciples to remain in Jerusalem to receive the Holy Spirit, the source of power. Once they received the Spirit they would bear witness to him to the ends of the earth by their preaching and lives: “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” and become his “witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and to the ends of the earth.” Then he was lifted up in the sky and a cloud covered him. The disciples received the angelic message that the ascended Jesus would come back again in glory. Thus, the Ascension of Jesus means that the risen Jesus has entered into the glory of his Heavenly Father. He has accomplished our salvation by his suffering and death, Resurrection, Ascension, and the sending of the Spirit.
Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 47), “God is king of all the earth,” celebrates God’s universal kingship. It was originally sung in connection with a cultic procession honoring the Ark of the Covenant. This most sacred religious object served as a pedestal upon which God was invisibly enthroned. During an annual feast it would be taken from repose in the Temple’s Holy of Holies and returned in solemn procession. “God mounts his throne!” This cultic cry, our Psalm refrain today, refers to the solemn installation of the Ark within the Temple, a liturgical reenactment of the universal lordship that is God’s from eternity. Now, by his Ascension the risen Lord likewise “mounts his throne” in glory.
In the second reading (Eph 1:17-23), St. Paul puts special emphasis on the truth that Jesus, our triumphant Lord, now rules in glory over all creation. He prays: “May God enlighten the eyes of our heart so that we may know the great hope to which we have been called.” In the alternate second reading (Eph. 4:4-13), Paul exhorts the disciples to live in a manner worthy of their calling and mission. The greatest witness we can bear to the presence of Jesus in our midst is our unity with God, seen in our living with one another in peace and harmony.
Exegetical notes: A) The Ascension: Each Sunday we profess through the Creed, “He ascended into Heaven.” Christ’s Ascension was the culmination of God’s divine plan for Christ Jesus, his return to his Father with “Mission Accomplished.” Ascension is the grand finale of all his words and works done for us and for our salvation. It was a culmination, but not the conclusion. As Jesus is now with God in glory, he is now with us in Spirit: “Lo, I am with you always.” The feast of the Ascension celebrates one aspect of the Resurrection, namely Jesus’ exaltation. He did not wait 40 days to be glorified at God’s right hand. That had already happened at his Resurrection. Like the 40 days after Easter during which He appeared to many in Israel, this public Ascension in to Heaven was given to us for our sakes. The 40 days allowed many to experience personally his Resurrection and his being alive in a glorified body as fact to be counted upon, reality, and the fulfillment of prophecy. The focus of this feast is the Heavenly reign of Christ, and the Lord’s being” seated at God’s right hand,” meaning He alone will be in control of the continuing plan of salvation through the Holy Spirit, unrestricted by time, space or culture. It is there, at the “right hand of God,” that he continues to make intercession for all of us with the Father. Thus, the Paschal Mystery — Jesus’ passion, death, Resurrection, Ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit – is a single, unbroken Reality which is to be understood by Faith. By His Ascension, Jesus, the risen Christ, True God and True Man, is One with the Father and the Holy Spirit in glory forever.
B) The Ascension account: The Biblical accounts of the Ascension focus not so much on the details of the event as on the mission Jesus gave to his disciples. For example, in the accounts narrated in Luke and Acts, the Ascension took place in Jerusalem. In Matthew and Mark, on the other hand, the event occurred in Galilee. All accounts, however, agree that the Ascension, a real event, happening in real time and observed by real people, took place on a mountain. In Luke and Acts, the Ascension happened forty days after the Resurrection, a period during which Jesus appeared repeatedly to his followers. In Matthew and Mark there is no indication of the time period between the Resurrection and the Ascension. The Gospel writers apparently were not aiming at accuracy of historical detail but were more concerned with transmitting Our Lord’s message.
C) The Ascension message: “Preach the Good News and be my witnesses:” Matthew, Mark and Acts record Jesus’ last words differently: 1) “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). 2) “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” (Matthew 28:19-21). 3) “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark.16:15). All are in agreement that (a) Jesus gave his disciples a mission of bearing witness to him by preaching and living the Good News. They are to tell and re-tell the story of Jesus’ life, suffering, death and Resurrection, Ascension and sending of the Holy Spirit. (b) He assured them of the Divine assistance of the Holy Spirit in the carrying out of this mission.
D) Christmas and Ascension: The Ascension is most closely related, in meaning, to Christmas. In Jesus, the human and the Divine become united in the person and life of one man. That’s Christmas. At the Ascension, this human being – the Person and the risen, glorified body of Jesus – became for all eternity a part of who God is. It was not the spirit of Jesus or the Divine nature of Jesus alone that ascended to the Father. It was the risen Jesus, whole, alive and entire, in his glorified Body that ascended: a body which the disciples had touched, the body in which Jesus had eaten and drunk with them both before and after His Resurrection, a real, physical, but gloriously restored body, bearing the marks of nails and a spear. This is what ascended. This is what, now and forever, is a living, participating part of God. The Ascension, along with the Incarnation, is here to tell us that it is a good thing to be a human being; indeed it is a wonderful and an important and a holy thing to be a human being. It is such an important thing that God did it. Even more, the fullness of God now includes what it means to be a human being.
Life messages: 1) We need to be proclaimers and evangelizers: In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives his mission to all the believers: “Go out to the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” This mission is not given to a select few but to all believers. To be a Christian is to be a proclaimer and an evangelizer. There is a difference between preaching and proclaiming. “We preach with words but we proclaim with our lives.” As we celebrate the Lord’s return to His Father in Heaven – His Ascension — we are being commissioned to go forth and proclaim the Gospel of life and love, of hope and peace, by the witness of our lives. On this day of hope, encouragement and commissioning, let us renew our commitment to be true disciples everywhere we go, beginning with our family and our parish, “living in a manner worthy of the call [we] have received.”
2) We need to live a life of Christian joy in the presence of the ascended Lord. According to Luke, the disciples “returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” Apparently, Jesus’ exaltation and final blessing gave them, as it gives us, the assurance that, though absent, he is still present, present even in the pain and sorrow we undergo. That is why St. Augustine assures us, “Christ is now exalted above the Heavens, but he still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of his Body, have to bear. He showed this when he cried out from above: ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?’ and when he said: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food.’ While in Heaven he is also with us; and while on earth we are with him. He is here with us by his Divinity, his power and his love. We cannot be in Heaven, as he is on earth, by Divinity, but in him, we can be there by love.” “With a spirit of wisdom and insight to know him clearly,” we can discover Christ’s presence at every turn of our life’s journeys to his final return at the end of time.
3) We have a teaching mission: Jesus taught us lessons of Faith, Hope, forgiveness, mercy, Redemption and Love. We cannot put these lessons on a shelf and ignore them. They stand before us in the person of Jesus. Although no longer visibly present in the world, He is present in his words. We must make his words real in our lives and in the lives of others. Christianity was meant to be a Faith in which Jesus’ followers would help and care for others, just as Jesus had done, and in so doing, care for him in them. But the spreading of the Good News to all nations is not a goal that can be attained by human might and craft. This is why Jesus promises to empower his messengers with His abiding presence and that of the Holy Spirit. The challenge of sharing the Good News with all mankind should, therefore, begin with our admission that we have often been arrogant and overbearing. We must learn to be humble and let the Holy Spirit lead the way.
4) The ascended Jesus is our source of strength and encouragement: Perhaps some of the nagging doubts, which inevitably accompany the journey of Faith, could be lessened by our meditating on the Ascension and its implications. When we are too far from Faith to pray on our own, let us remember that we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous, praying for us. When the trials of life feel too heavy to bear, we must remember that Christ will come again in glory, the same glory in which he arose from the tomb, the same glory in which he ascended, and the same glory in which he currently abides. Though our limited perception might find him absent, he is fully present, participating in every moment of our lives. By His Ascension, Christ has not deserted us but has made it possible for the Holy Spirit to enter all times and places. In this way it is possible for each of us to be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into agents or instruments of Christ. We are enlivened and our actions become animated in a new way by Holy Spirit as we serve the God we love We have become Christs in the world.
JOKE OF THE WEEK
# 1: The Ascension mission to preach the Gospel: After attending a convention led by Billy Graham a woman wrote to him. “Dear Sir, I feel that God is calling me to preach the Gospel. But the trouble is that I have twelve children. What shall I do?” The televangelist replied: “Dear Madam, I am delighted to hear that God has called you to preach the Gospel. I am even more delighted to hear that He has already provided you with a congregation in your own home.”
# 2: The Ascension walk-out: There was a long-winded pastor who preached salvation history from Genesis to Revelation in every sermon. On the feast of Ascension as he reached Isaiah, he remarked that the prophet said nothing about the Ascension of Our Lord. He asked his audience, “What shall we do with him?” One old man in the front seat said, “He can have my seat, Father, I am leaving.”
# 3: And after death ascend or descend? At the end of school what do you want to do? I want to do my Senior Certificate. After your Senior Certificate what do you want to do? – I want to go to college. After college what do you want to do?
– I want to get a job. Then what do you want to do? – I want to make big money.
What do you want to do after making money? – I want to build a big house.
After that what do you intend to do? – I want to get married. What will you do after getting married? – I will have a family. What will you do after having a family? – I will retire. What do you want to do after you retire? – I want to take a rest. What will you do after taking a rest? – I don’t know. Will you die? – Oh yes, I will die too. What will happen after death? I am not sure!