Ascension Day

Ascension of the LordForty days in the Bible is seen as a period of fullness.  This perfect period of time has elapsed since we celebrated the Resurrection.  We need space and time to absorb the meaning of these great mysteries of our Faith and allow them to germinate like seeds in the fertile ground of liturgy.

But chronologically, the event of the Ascension presents us with a bit of a puzzle.  The three synoptic Gospels emphasise different aspects of the story of the Ascension:  Matthew emphasises the promise of Jesus to be with the disciples till the end of time; Mark highlights the Messianic triumph of Jesus returning to the Father while the disciples go about preaching the Good News; Luke describes Jesus being carried up to Heaven, the disciples worshipping Him and the sending down of the Holy Spirit.  But Luke gives a different account of the Ascension in his Gospel from that which he gives in the Acts.

We don’t know for certain if Jesus did ascend to the Father 40 days after the Resurrection (as in Acts) or if it was on the same day as He rose from the dead (as in Luke).  Did Jesus ascend into Heaven from the Mount of Olives, from outside Bethany or from a mountain in Galilee?  What was it like?  Did He just disappear from their sight or did they see Him physically ascend?  When I hear that Gospel Acclamation, I can’t help thinking of a space-craft leaving Cape Canaveral!  

No matter how the evangelists may different in their description of this event the theological truths celebrated in the liturgy today are the same.  The theological truths are:  i) that Jesus returned to the Father, ii) that Jesus promised to send from on high, the power to enable the disciples to become witnesses and iii) that disciples can look forward to our final Hope, the return of The Lord and being with Him forever.

 The Return to the Father; to be at one with the Father is always the prayer of Jesus.  “The Father and I are one”, I have taught you “what I have learned from the Father”, “As the Father loved me so I have loved you”.  Jesus cannot exist without the Father and so His longing is to be with the Father is constant

Promise to send the Holy Spirit; “The Father will send the Spirit of truth who will teach all things ...  will give you power to be witness .........will enable you to proclaim.  The sending of the Spirit will also teach them about God and the unity of Father, Son and Spirit – the great Christian doctrine of the Blessed Trinity.

The return of the Lord and being with Him for ever; “I am going to prepare a place for you”  “There are many rooms in my Father’s house”.  The basis of our Hope in heaven is summed up in the Preface of today’s Mass; “that we might be confident of following where He, our Head and Founder, has gone before.”

Heaven is our goal and that aspiration is put before us today as we commemorate Jesus going to the Father.  We need goals, aspirations in all that we do and surely our life’s goal is the all-important one.  The image of ‘eternal rest’ might strike us, especially the activists among us, as being very boring!  Eternal rest means the repose and fulfilment of all energies in the wonder of God.

While we are in this life we will always feel incomplete and restless.  Our prayer today might be the same one as Saint Augustine: ‘You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”