Ascension of the Lord
First Reading Acts 1:1–11
Psalm Psalm 47:2–3, 6–9
Second Reading Ephesians 4:1–13
Gospel Mark 16:15–20
Psalm 47:2–3, 6–9
Clap your hands, all you peoples;
shout to God with loud songs of joy.
For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome,
a great king over all the earth.
God has gone up with a shout,
theLordwith the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the king of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm.
God is king over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne.
Reading the Word
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But 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.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,
“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.”
When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things. The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.
Hearing the Word
“Entrusted with the Mission”
The feast of Jesus’ Ascension might seem a sad occasion as we see the disciples watching their Lord disappear into the clouds. However, this celebration commemorates a solemn commissioning of the disciples and the Church for a mission to continue Jesus’ work on earth. The timing of the ascension, forty days after the resurrection, is symbolic. Just as forty days of seclusion in the desert preceded Jesus’ public ministry at the beginning of the Gospel, forty days of intensive communion with Jesus after the resurrection preceded the mission of the disciples. The Ascension also opens a new stage in salvation history, the era of the Church.
The first reading follows the introduction to the book of Acts. This texts links Acts to the Gospel of Luke as it recounts the same event with which the Gospel concluded, the Ascension. Clearly, the second book was meant to continue the story of Jesus. Both books also mention the same person in their introductions, Theophilus. This, otherwise unknown figure, might have been a specific individual for whom Luke wrote. But he could well represent all those Christians to whom both books were addressed as the message to be followed and lived out. The beginning of Acts recalls the encounters of the disciples with the risen Jesus focusing on his final instructions. The disciples are curious about the date of the final restoration of the “kingdom to Israel”. But Jesus points out to them what is truly important. Instead of thinking about when the kingdom would come, they ought to focus on their task of being his “witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”. These words, in fact, outline the rest of the book which describes how the Church spreads out to the whole world, starting from Jerusalem, through the surrounding regions of Judea and Samaria, and eventually reaches the heart ofthe entire civilized world, Rome.
In Acts, we see that the disciples play a crucial role in this expansion as they witness to the life and the work of Jesus. The Risen Lord continues to work through them and empowers them for this mission through the Holy Spirit. Still, their active response, courage and cooperation are necessary for the Church to grow and expand. They are now the extension of Jesus, his successors and heralds.
The passage from the letter to the Ephesians makes two important contributions to the theme of mission. First, the author writes about the great dignity of the Christian vocation and exhorts believers to live a life “worthy of the calling”. He urges the believers to maintain harmony among themselves through the practice of virtues such as “humility and gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love”. These virtues and attitudes aim at strengthening the unity and peace, the “oneness”, of all community members united by baptism and the gift of the Spirit.
However, such unity and harmony remain a mission to be pursued and a task to be accomplished. Hence, the author calls his Christians to participate in “building up the body of Christ”. They are to carry out Christ’s mission through employing the diverse gifts which he had bestowed on them. The author emphasizes that oneness does not mean uniformity, as “each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift”. This means that each of us is to employ his/her unique gifts, talents and resources to build up and strengthen the community. The author also refers to Jesus’ ascension. Quoting Ps 68:19 he reveals that the Risen Lord ascended to heaven and took dominion over the entire universe and all its powers “making them captive”. Having first descended to earth as a human being, Jesus returned to the heavenly world. From there, he continues to send gifts of various kind upon the faithful living on earth. These gifts are meant for building up their communities “until all of us come to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity”. In Ephesians, the focus of the mission is the community itself. Mature Christians, gathered in a united community, are the best witness to the Risen Lord before the whole world. Such witnessing is the mission of the Church in the world.
The concluding verses of Mark’s Gospel report the final words of Jesus before his ascension. These words clearly demonstrate that the disciples’ mission after Jesus’ departure is to continue what Jesus had started. However, while Jesus’ mission was limited to the relatively small territories of Galilee, Judea and the surrounding areas, the disciples are to expand this mission to the whole world, indeed, to the whole creation.
This mission is immensely important because it involves the message of salvation. The acceptance of Jesus with faith will lead to salvation, rejecting him will result in condemnation. But the message about Jesus must be made known to all, so that all might have a chance to come to faith. Making Jesus universally known is the disciples’ purpose and mission. They will be empowered for this mission by the ability to perform signs, much like Jesus did. And the Risen Lord will himself accompany them, even after his ascension. The disciples are instrumental in making salvation available to all, even if its acceptance remains a choice for every person.
The Feast of Ascension does not conclude the story of Jesus. On the contrary, it is only the beginning of his story as the Lord of the entire creation. After his ascension, his mission of salvation continues first through his own disciples, and then by the Church which their mission brought into existence. Jesus explicitly entrusted the disciples with the task of witnessing to him, as recounted in the book of Acts. Their mission led to the creation of Christian communities throughout the world. These Churches, in turn, have the mission of developing themselves to full maturity in faith and unity by employing the gifts the Lord continues to bestow upon them. When fully developed, such communities become “communal disciples” testifying to Jesus through their life. Such Churches are the successors of the disciples and of Jesus. The mission of the Church, and every member, is enormously important as they proclaim the message of salvation to the entire world. Its acceptance or rejection remains a choice for those who hear it. However, the believers’ mission in the world was, and remains, to make this message known, by the word and example of a mature Christianlife. The psalmist pointed the goal of the Church’s mission in the form of an invitation, “Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy. For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome.”
Listening to the Word of God
Pope John Paul II, addressing thousands of young people at the 8thWorld Youth Day in Denver, USA, said, “Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places, like the first apostles who preached Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the time to preach it from the rooftops”.
The above statement of the pope is an efficacious reminder that we have been entrusted with a mission. Responsibility has been placed on our shoulders to let every “Theophilus” hear about Jesus and know all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up into heaven.
As the apostles gazed into the sky, watching Jesus ascend, one wonders what their feelings were and what was going through their minds. Were they in a state of joyful ecstasy, or in a state of bereavement seeing a loved one depart from them? Whatever their feelings and thoughts, the rhetorical question of the two men dressed in white was the alarm bell to bring them back to reality, “Why are you looking into the sky?” There was no point in continuingto look up into the sky. They needed to turn their gaze on the earth, where there was much work to be done.
The ascension of Jesus into heaven did not bring to an end his ministry on earth. It only marked the beginning of another phase of his mission of salvation. The task of the second phase was to be carried out by his followers equipped with the necessary gifts – “He went up to the heights … he gave gifts to humanity” (Eph 4:8). Some are called upon to carry out this task as apostles, others prophets, some evangelists, pastors, teachers, catechists, choristers, ushers etc. The gifts vary but the mission is the same – “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Gospel to all creation…” (Mk 16:15).
Take note that in the last verse of today’s Gospel, we read that the disciples went out preaching everywhere and the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word by the signs that accompanied it. There are two important points here. First and foremost, it was the Lord who “worked with them.” It is one thing to work for the Lord and another thing for the Lord to work with you. It is true that many of us are doing many things for the Lord. However, what we do for the Lord is not as important as what we allow the Lord to do with us. Secondly, we are told that the Lord “confirmed the word with signs”. Indeed, it is only when we give God the chance to work with us that divine signs abound in our work of evangelization – signs that will confirm that the Lord is at work in us and with us. When and where there are no manifestations of divine signs in one’s life, one may want to ask him or herself, “Am I available for theLord to work with me?”
Many have sought to find a reasonable explanation for the rapid propagation of the Gospel by the first generations of Christians, who, for the most part, were uneducated men and women. But most Christians of these first generations considered it their duty to witness. This was the secret of the rapid expansion that took place in the first decades of Christianity. There is a proverb among the Akan of Ghana which says, “To learn how to spread good news, watch the ant.” When an ant experiences something good at a particular place, it brings tens and hundreds of its kind to the same spot.
“To learn how to spread good news, watch the ant”
In what ways do I proclaim the Gospel to others?
How do I share my faith with others?
Response to God
I will set a time to sit prayerfully in the presence of God and call to mind the mission of Christ. I think of how he lived, died, rose and ascended into heaven. I will treasure and obey his commission to me, “Go out to the whole world; proclaimthe Gospel to all creation”.
Response to your World
I will choose one concreate way to obey the Lord’s command to proclaim his Gospel to all creation.
Is there anybody in our families or circle of friends who needs to hear the Gospel message? Collectively we will decide on the way to bear witness to Christ before those who need it.
Eternal Father, by your words and deeds, you have shown us that you are a God who is continually on a mission to save. In union with your Son Jesus, may we come to share in this divine mission and offer ourselves as agents of salvation. Grant this through Christ our Lord.
Scripture quotations from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.