Ascension of the Lord
First Reading Acts 1:1–11
Psalm Psalm 47:2–3, 6–9
Second Reading Ephesians 1:17–23
Gospel Matthew 28:16–20
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,
the Lord with 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 pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Hearing the Word
“Authority and Power”
The Feast of the Ascension celebrates Jesus’ ascent to God’s side in heaven. This event completes Jesus’ mission on earth, and confirms him as the glorified Lord of all creation, with absolute authority over all that God has made. The liturgy of this feast draws attention to the issue of the right use of authority and power, themes which occur repeatedly in today’s readings.
The first reading covers the opening section of the book of Acts. In these few verses St Luke dedicates his work to his friend and sponsor Theophilus, and refers to the Gospel where Jesus’ life and mission were presented in detail. The focus in the reading, however, rests on Jesus’ departure, his ascension. The ascension, and Jesus’ subsequent enthronement at God’s side, should be seen as essential to the foundation of the Church. This is so because the Holy Spirit, whose presence would empower the disciples to carry out their mission to the ends of the earth, would be sent upon the disciples by Jesus, after his ascent to the Father. Thus, the ascension was the necessary precondition for the sending of the Spirit whose presence, in turn, became the starting point for the Church.
The issues of authority and power arise in this context. Jesus’ ascent to heaven placed him at God’s side. This act, called the “enthronement”, signifies that Jesus received divine authority. But Luke shows that Jesus intended to delegate this authority to his disciples who would remain on earth. Even before his departure to the Father, Jesus instructed the disciples to remain in Jerusalem, and wait patiently for the gift of the Spirit. He promised that they would receive the power of the Holy Spirit, and thereby be empowered with the strength and authority that comes from Jesus himself. Jesus fulfilled this promise as the glorified Lord. Importantly, Jesus did not appear to consider the disciples as mere tools to carry out his commands, but rather as participants in his divine authority. This delegation and sharing of his power took place through the Holy Spirit.
Analyzing these events, differences between how God’s authority was exercised in the Old Testament, and then after Jesus’ ascension, come to light. In the Old Testament, God usually issued direct commands which were carried out swiftly and unquestionably by his servants. But after the coming of the Holy Spirit, God acted through the people who would carry out his will of their own accord, directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It could be said that the Holy Spirit enables people to act on behalf of God in the world. This was made possible by Jesus’ incarnation as a human being, and the subsequent transformation of human hearts by the continuing guidance of the Spirit. Jesus, the glorified Lord, did not jealously guard his power and authority but shared it with his disciples and, subsequently, with his other followers.
The letter to the Ephesian is a masterly exposition on the Church and its nature, with a deep reflection on the foundation and nature of the Christian community. Today’s short excerpt reveals the extraordinary gift believers received from God through Jesus. The author aims to make Christians fully appreciate and understand “the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints”. Christians have been given an unparalleled dignity and gift by being called to faith, and receiving the promise of eternal life in God’s presence because of Jesus’ resurrection.
The author then turns to the issue of power. He writes about “the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe. God exercised this power in and through Jesus first by raising him from the dead, and, subsequently, bringing him to his right hand and making him the glorified Lord with authority over all creation.
This brief but extraordinarily rich passage ends with a description of the Church as the body of Christ. It is a remarkable image. Christ, the supreme Lord of all creation is not a remote and authoritarian ruler but identifies with this Church as with his own body. Unquestionably, Christ holds the supreme authority. But he exercises it not through an authoritarian imposition of his will but through the harmonious union that exists between the head and the body. This harmony and inclusion are perhaps best described by the word “love”. The supreme authority and power exercised by Christ on behalf of God is the power of an all-permeating love that governs in order to sustain and direct.
The conclusion of the Gospel of Matthew is often called “the great commission” as the disciples are sent on a mission to all nations. However, once again the issue of authority is present. Even though Matthew does not describe Jesus’ ascension, the disciples’ act of worshiping him and the words, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”, unquestionably present Jesus as the glorified Lord over all creation. His command to make disciples of all nations by baptism discloses the way in which Jesus wants his power and authority to be used. By baptism the disciples are to bring people into the community of believers, thus ensuring their salvation.
Jesus assures the disciples of his enduring presence while they carry out this task. Their work will be Jesus’ work and Jesus’ power will be their power. Jesus used and now shares this authority and power for the salvation of all humankind.
The feast of the Ascension celebrates the successful completion of Jesus’ mission of bringing God’s kingdom into the world, and of opening the path to salvation to all humanity. In the course of this mission Jesus put himself entirely in the service of this purpose. The outcome of his self-sacrifice was endowment with unparalleled dignity, complete authority and supreme power as the glorified Lord of creation. Yet, even in that supreme position Jesus placed his power and authority completely in the service of human salvation. He delegated his power to his disciples through the gift of the Spirit, as is shown in the book of Acts. He exercises this power through love that sustains the Church community, as shown in Ephesians. Finally, he uses his power for the salvation of all nations by leading them to faith by the work of his disciples, as is evident in the conclusion of the Gospel of Matthew. In antiquity, the power of gods terrified people who thought that the divine might could be used against them. How different is Jesus who uses his supreme power for human salvation! For this reason, believers truly proclaim the good news when they acclaim their saving Lord with the Psalmist’s words, “sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises”.
Listening to the Word of God
God’s equation, “power plus authority equals love”, is contrary to the way many of us have experienced power and authority. Sadly, the dominant equation in our society is, “power plus authority equals control, fear and abuse”. This equation is destructive wherever and whenever it is applied, whether in the private sphere such as the family home, or in public spheres such as schools, workplaces and politics. Children have been harmed by authoritative and abusive parents, and entire nations destroyed by dictatorial power of hungry and egocentric politicians. These experiences of abuse of power make it difficult for many of us to imagine that anything good and life giving can come from those with power and authority. Despite this dominant view, there are instances in history when leaders have sacrificed their lives for the liberation of their nations. Sadly, their legacy has often not continued and political power has lost its sacrificial role for the common good. Similarly, some children have flourished because of the sacrificial love, power and authority of parents. These examples of alternatives to the dominant power equation enable us to understand better God’s equation.
We have so far discussed how other people have used power and authority. Now, we will reflect on how we use the power and authority that we have. We may think that because we do not have positions of power in our work places or in politics we have no power or authority whatsoever. In truth, we all have power and authority over someone. The message in today’s readings contains an invitation to embrace God’s equation of power and authority and replicate it in our lives. That kind of power is desperately needed in our world.
Finally, we certainly have authority over our own lives. We choose what to do with our time, how to manage our bodies, how to relate to others. This authority, even if not complete, allows us to shape our destiny and influence others. It is within our power to mold ourselves into the persons we decide to be. We can also exert influence over others. Whenever we do so, we must keep in mind how Jesus used his power and authority. This will save and prevent us from committing abuses of power and authority that so badly damage ourselves, our planet and communities.
The temptations that come with power and authority are so great that, left to ourselves, we would not be able to implement the power equation of God with our own powers. Fortunately, we are not left alone but have the Holy Spirit as a constant companion to empower and guide us. The Holy Spirit invites us to share in God’s power and follow the example of Jesus’ life of love and sacrifice. As we celebrate the feast of the Ascension of Jesus we are reminded of God’s equation of power in the life and mission of Jesus, who healed, liberated and brought salvation to all. He did not use this power to escape the challenges of life, but rather to confront and overcome these through the cross and resurrection. In our world, where the dominant equation of power reigns, we are called to live and demonstrate a different kind of power and authority that loves, serves and sacrifices.
“A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song”
Reflect on both negative and positive experiences of power in your life. How have these experiences affected the way you exercise power in your areas of influence?
How do I use my authority and power over my own life? Could I use these more fruitfully?
Response to God
Confess and ask for forgiveness for times when you have used power and authority in ways that harm others. Pray for the healing of the harm you might have done by your careless acts.
Response to your World
I will reflect on the authority which I have over others and resolve to use it following the teaching and message of today’s readings.
How can we as a group stand against the abuse of power in our environment? We discuss what actions we can take and act accordingly.
Lord give us the same mind as that of your Son Jesus Christ who, existing in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped and possessed for himself, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. Amen
Scripture quotations from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.