The Ascension of the Lord marks the official end of Jesus’s regular appearances to his disciples for forty days 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-commissioned Peter, who had repented of denying him during his passion and death, as the head of the Apostles. (Jn 21:1-22).
The first Reading, (Acts 1:1-11), recounted that, “as he, (Jesus), said this he was lifted up while they, (disciples), 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 to Jesus or what was happening in his 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 stated 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 Apostles’ Creed: “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there He will come to judge the living and the dead.” 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 who 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 as we read in the first Reading of today is “far above every Sovereignty, Authority, Power, or Domination, or any other name that can be named, not only in this age, but also in the age to come. He has put all things under his feet, and made him as the ruler of everything, the head of the Church; which is his body, the fullness of him who fills the whole creation”. (Eph 1:17-23).
In the Gospel, (Lk 24:46-53), Jesus reminded his disciples that they had witnessed how he had fulfilled the Scriptures by suffering, dying and rising from the dead on the third day. He then commissioned them to go to the nations and preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins in his name. However, they were not to commence the ministry of evangelisation of the nations until they had received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day and then 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; for we are the faces of Jesus in the world.
Though Jesus has ascended to the Father, he has however, not abandoned us. He promised to be with us until “the end of time.” He continues to be with us in the Sacraments. Jesus 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, where I am, you may be too.’’
Happy Ascension of the Lord!
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp