The Ascension of the Lord marks the official end of Jesus’s regular appearances to his disciples after his resurrection. We recall that on Easter Sunday morning, he appeared to weeping Mary Magdalene at the tomb and commissioned her to bring the Good News of his resurrection to his disciples, (Jn 20:16-17). He also showed himself to some women who were on their way home after visiting his tomb and sent them to inform his disciples that he had risen from the dead, (Mt 28:9).
On Easter Sunday evening, he appeared to two of his disciples on their way to Emmaus, (Lk 24:13-30). Jesus showed himself to Peter and to the rest of his apostles on Easter Sunday night, (Lk 24:34-43). He appeared to his disciples again and addressed Thomas’ doubts about his resurrection, (Jn 20:26-29). His next manifestation was at the Sea of Galilee while some of his disciples were fishing. During this appearance he re-instated Peter as the head of the apostles, (Jn 21:1-22). Jesus’ ascension story presents us with the last of his regular appearances.
We read in the First Reading, (Acts 1:1-11), that, “as he said this, he was lifted up while they looked on, and the cloud took him from their sight”. This is the third time that the phrase ‘lifted up’ was used to describe what would happen or was happening in Jesus’ life. Jesus had said in the Gospel of John that, “when you have lifted up the son of man, then you will know that I am He”, (Jn 8:28), and again, “when I am lifted up from the earth, then I will draw all people to myself”, (Jn 12:32). In the above contexts Jesus used the phrase, ‘lifted up’ to describe the manner of his death on the cross for the salvation of the world.
‘Lifted up’, as used in the First Reading of today, referred to Jesus’ glorification, for it asserted that while Jesus was ‘lifted up’, “cloud took him from their sight”. In the bible, cloud and smoke symbolise theophany. The people of Israel were led by a pillar of cloud on their way to the promised land from Egypt, (Ex 13:12); during the covenant between God and the Israelites at Mount Sinai, smoke covered the mountain, (Ex 19:18), and at Jesus’ transfiguration, Jesus and his disciples were covered by cloud, (Mk 9:7).
With Jesus Christ’s ascension, he is now seated at the right hand of the Father as we profess in The Creed. This underscores the authority of Christ as the Lord of lords and the King of kings. It is the same Jesus that incarnated in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary for our salvation, that has now ascended to glory. St Paul said in his letter to the Philippians that because Christ accepted death on the cross, God has exalted him and given “him the Name which outshines all names, so that at the Name of Jesus all knees should bend in heaven, on earth and among the dead, and all tongues proclaim that Christ Jesus is the Lord to the glory of God the Father”, (Phil 2:6-11). Jesus’ authority is above every principality, power and authority in this world and in the next.
In the Gospel, (Matt 28:16-20), Jesus said to his disciple that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”, he then ordered them to go and made disciples of all the nations and to baptise them “in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.
In the First Reading, Jesus had instructed his disciples that after they had received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost day, that they would be his witnesses from the land of Israel to the entire world. Hence, now is the time of the church; this is our time to make a difference in the world by being Christ’s witnesses in our families, our neighbourhoods, and our country.
Though Jesus has ascended, he is still with us. He promised to be with us until “the end of time”. He continues to be with us in the Sacraments. Jesus himself is the Sacrament of God par excellence because he is God incarnate, in him God has become our Emmanuel, a God that walks with us and shares in our joys and sorrows. He sanctifies us and brings healing and wholeness to our lives. He is present with us through the seven Sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Matrimony and Holy Orders. Where he our head has gone, we, his body hope to be. We trust in his promises when he said:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house; if there were not, I should have told you. I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with me; so that that where I am, you may be too.
Happy Ascension of the Lord!
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSP