His Ascension is not His Separation from His People, but the Ascension of His Throne and the Beginning of His reign as Head of the Church.
- When you try to go to another world, there is incredible danger. In January of 1967, there was a launch pad test of Apollo 1, which was to be the first flight of a three-man Apollo capsule into Earth’s orbit. Somewhere in the capsule’s 31 miles of wiring, a wire had been stripped of its insulation. The bare wire happened to be near a cooling line, and there was a violent chemical reaction between the silver in the wire and the ethylene glycol. Within seconds, flames spread across the cabin ceiling. At 6:31 p.m., astronaut Roger Chaffee said, “We’ve got fire in the cockpit.” A few seconds later, the transmission ended with a cry of pain. All three astronauts died.
Two years later, when Apollo 11 got ready to carry human beings to the moon, President Nixon asked William Safire to write a speech entitled, “In Event of Moon Disaster.” If anything went wrong on the moon mission, Nixon would read the speech on TV, the radio communications with the moon would be cut off, the astronauts would be left alone to die, and a minister would commend their souls to “the deepest of the deep.”
But that’s not what happened. On July 20, 1969, with less than 30 seconds of fuel left, the lunar module landed in the Sea of Tranquility, and Commander Neil A. Armstrong stepped off the ladder onto the gray, powdery surface of the moon. It was the first time a human had ever gone to another celestial body.
After their return to earth, the astronauts had parades and dinners held in their honor in Washington D.C. President Nixon gave each astronaut the Presidential Medal of Freedom. What a celebration! The human race had just accomplished its greatest technological achievement of all time.
When Jesus Christ accomplished the greatest act of love and redemption of all time—when he went through the clouds and splashed down on heaven’s shores—what a celebration he started! He had done it! Jesus had just completed the most dangerous and most important mission of all time. He had faced every temptation but never gave into sin. He stood up to the intense hatred of people with only truth and love. He could have called legions of angels to rescue him, but he willingly obeyed God and fulfilled his mission of giving up his life as a sacrifice to bring people back to God. He defeated the Devil. He destroyed death. Now he’s returned in victory. The Father welcomes Jesus home and seats him at his right hand, the place of highest honor. He gives all authority to Jesus.
Why do we celebrate the Ascension? Because all heaven celebrates the victorious return of the Son, the Lamb who was slain, the Lion who conquered, the one who says in joy and power: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
Kevin Miller, executive vice president, Christianity Today
- There is an ancient legend about Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
He is met by the angel Gabriel who asks him, “Now that your work is finished, what plans have you made to ensure that the truth that you brought to earth will spread throughout the world?”
Jesus answered, “I have called some fishermen and tax-collectors to walk along with me as I did my Father’s will.”
“Yes, I know about them,” said Gabriel, “but what other plans have you made? ”
Jesus replied, “I taught Peter, James and John about the kingdom of God; I taught Thomas about faith; and all of them were with me as I healed and preached to the multitudes.”
Gabriel replied, “But you know how unreliable that lot was. Surely you must have other plans to make sure your work was not in vain.”
Jesus quietly replied to Gabriel, “I have no other plans. I am depending on them!!”
Let us bring Glory to God by completing His work!
The death of a member of his family or of a loved friend, must be the saddest event imaginable in the life of an atheist. He is one who really is convinced that there is no God, no future life and therefore that the relative or friend is to turn into dust in the grave, never to be met with again. The thought that every day that passes is bringing him too nearer to that same sad fate, death, which will be the end of all his ambitions, all his enjoyments, the end of everything he thought he was or had, must be something hard to live with.
Thank God, we have the good fortune to know, and reason and faith convince us of this truth, that death is not the end of man. It is rather the real beginning. Today’s feast—the Ascension of our Lord in his human nature—to his Father’s and our Father’s home, is the confirmation and the guarantee of this doctrine of our faith. We shall all rise from the grave with new, glorified bodies and ascend to heaven, as Christ did. There we will begin our true life of eternal happiness.
While it is true that even for good Christians the death of a beloved one is a cause of sorrow and tears, this is natural as we still are earthly creatures. Yet the certitude that our beloved one has gone to his true life and will be there to meet us when our turn comes, is always at the back of our minds to console and comfort us. What all human beings want is to live on forever with our dear ones. Death breaks that continuity but only for a little while. That break is necessary for a new life to begin.
It is only in heaven that this natural desire of an unending life with all those we love can be realized and death on earth is the door to that eternal life.
Look up to heaven today. See Christ ascending to his Father and our Father. Say: Thank you, God, for creating me, and for giving me, through the Incarnation of your beloved Son, the possibility and the assurance that if I do my part here, when death comes it will not be an enemy but a friend, to speed me on my way to the true, supernatural life which you have, in your love, planned and prepared for me.
In the First Reading of today from the Acts of the Apostles, we have the farewell scenario, the intimate moment of separation, well pictured – this shows the departure of Jesus, like a Helium balloon rising higher & higher and finally disappearing in the sky, becoming out of sight. This could had been a sad moment for the disciples; but Jesus fills them with joy through his parting gifts; viz. ‘Gift of understanding, so that they can fully comprehend the Scripture; Promise of the power of the Holy Spirit; And a loving final blessing, with the promise that he will never abandon them and will be with them till the end of times.’
In the farewell scenario, the disciples were also given the glimpse and assurance of Christ’s second and final coming, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
This belief in the after-life is what we hear in the Second Reading of today from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory… and what is the surpassing greatness of his power…” What a beautiful prayer that is – and such strange imagery.
St. Paul makes this more explicit by telling us that God the Father has Jesus seated “at his right hand in the heavens.” To be seated at God’s right hand is a Hebrew idiom for ‘To share power with God.’ This is another way of saying that the Father has made Jesus Lord of heaven and earth – which is what we really celebrate on the feast of the Ascension.
St. Paul goes on to explain further that Christ lives but that we have become his earthly body. We now take on his body. We now need to become Christ for others. Once he left the earth he has given us his Spirit so that we can carry on his work.
After the resurrection, Jesus taught his disciples about God’s kingdom for forty days (Acts 1:3) and then he was “taken up” to heaven (Acts 1:2, 11). The cross and empty tomb are at the very heart of the gospel message proclaimed by Jesus’s followers throughout history (see 1 Corinthians 15:1–4). However, for many evangelical Christians and churches, Jesus’s ascension is simply an afterthought to Easter and Good Friday.
Here I want to highlight a few aspects of Jesus’s ascension or exaltation.
1. Jesus’s ascension is his return to his Father. Before and after his death and resurrection Jesus declares that he was sent by his Father and must return to his Father: I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father (John 16:28). Jesus said to Mary, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)
2. The Ascension is a glorification of Our Lord Jesus Christ and it was an event expected after his Resurrection. It is his heavenly enthronement as King. At Jesus’s ascension, He is installed as the true king of the world. According to the Apostles’ Creed, he “ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”
3. The Ascension marks the end of Jesus’ earthly work of redemption; however, Jesus continues to work after the ascension. In Acts 1:1–2 we read, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up…” The small but important word began signals that Jesus’s ascension does not mark the cessation but the continuation of his work as Lord and Messiah. That’s what Luke’s second book is all about, the “Acts of the risen Lord Jesus,” which he works from heaven, through his people, by the Holy Spirit, for the accomplishment of God’s purposes.
4. The Ascension can also be seen as Jesus parting from his disciples. i.e. Jesus stopped appearing to his disciples and was not with them any more in a physical sense. Jesus is taken up to heaven in a cloud (Acts 1:9–11), and Stephen declares that he sees the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56). These texts suggest that Jesus’s ascension fulfills the important prophecy of Daniel 7:13–14:3.
5. Jesus ascended to send the Holy Ghost. After his resurrection Jesus told his followers, “I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
6. Jesus ascended to prepare a place for His people. The ascended Lord Jesus is our heavenly mediator and high priest. (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 1:3; 7:25; 8:1; 1 John 2:1).
7. The ascended Lord Jesus will return as King and Judge. In Acts 1:11 two angels explain to the disciples, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Jesus’s heavenly reign will one day be fully realized on earth (Revelation 11:15; 19:10–16; 22:3). This is the very thing we ask for when we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). At his return, the Lord Jesus will execute divine judgment, vindicating his downtrodden people and judging his enemies.
What Jesus’ Ascension Means for Our Lives:
To sum up: Though often overlooked, the ascension completes Jesus’s earthly mission and signifies his enthronement as heavenly king. Jesus has completed his Father’s mission and he now rules with all authority and intercedes with all sympathy as our mediator and high priest. I close with four implications of Jesus’s ascension for our lives.
1. Remember that Jesus is presently reigning as king and remains active and engaged in our world and our lives.
2. Therefore live boldly, confidently, and strategically as servants of the exalted king of heaven. Know that your labors in the Lord Jesus are not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).
3. Sufferers, take heart that Jesus is not indifferent to your struggles. He has endured great suffering and is thus the most merciful and sympathetic counselor and mediator. Take your cares to your ascended Lord who hears your prayers and can respond with all heaven’s authority.
4. Finally hope in a glorious future. The ascended Lord will return as judge and king. He will abolish injustice, end suffering, and destroy death and set up his kingdom of truth, righteousness and love. Best of all, we will be with our king forever.
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.