We can share the mixed feelings of the apostles about Jesus departure. They felt somewhat unsettled, and partly sad at the thought of His imminent departure. After having been with the Lord all this while; they saw Him suffer, being scoffed at, insulted, and mocked on the cross. Therefore, it was not going to be easy for them now to come to terms with their Master’s physical absence.
The last thing our Lord did was to bless His people, and the first thing they did was to worship Him. The two always go together, because when we truly worship God, He will pour His blessings on us. Jesus also told them that He would send them what the Father has promised – the Holy Spirit to empower them to continue His work of bringing the gospel to the ends of the earth – beginning from Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit would lead them in their mission, having been assigned with the ministry of reconciliation; they would bring about a rebirth through Baptism, help men adopt God’s way through His graces from the Sacraments He has instituted.
After Jesus was lifted up gradually, a cloud took him out of their sight – a sign telling that He had entered heaven. This instantly reminded the disciples on the ground of what He had said to them earlier, “I am ascending to my Father, and your Father, to my God, and your God. Still the apostles and disciples did not leave the place, but kept looking up into the blank blue sky – probably hoping to catch another glimpse of Him. There is no doubt that Christ, though He was already up in heaven, knew they were still down below looking into the blank sky for Him, thus He sent two angels in white to appear to give them a gentle rebuke. “Men of Galilee why are you still standing here looking into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
What the two angels said can be interpreted as a reminder to them (and to us) that we have plenty to do for the Lord in the spreading of the gospel; hence, they should get on with what they had been commissioned by Jesus to accomplish, instead of standing there, and looking into the blank blue sky meaninglessly, and wasting their time. Then, Peter and the others went back to Jerusalem with great joy.
Christ who gave His life for us awaits us in heaven, and one day, He said He will return and take us to be with Him forever: to make us citizens of heaven. The hope of heaven will fill us with joy because it is a great hope based on what Jesus says in John 4: 2-3). Hence, it can be said that the Ascension ignites our hope of attaining heaven as our destination, and should make us very happy.
He has clearly stated in Revelation 22: 12 that He will be back soon, and give everyone “according to what he has done.” The last six words should be taken seriously. His disciples and followers will each have to give an account of what he or she has done for Him – how they have continued His works. In verse 20, our Lord repeats that He will be back soon, which smacks of an urgent appeal to all of us to always be ready. The same warning is also found in Matthew’s gospel.
Though He is not with us physically, Jesus still remains close to each of us, and lives in our hearts. We can find Him not only in the church, in the Tabernacle, in the Sacraments, but also outside the church, and in every personal encounter we experience. As nourishment for our soul, He still keeps giving himself to us in the Eucharist. This nourishment helps us to seek the things that are above. With the Ascension, Christ’s earthly mission draws to a close; and ours, as His disciples, has just begun.
The feast of Ascension reminds us to show our concern for souls in response to a command of love given us by Jesus. After His Ascension, He dispatches us throughout the whole world with the great responsibility of witnessing to the good news of His gospel. However, for us to accomplish this, it is essential that our lives will first have to reflect His ways and the fruits of the Holy Spirit – so that our actions are able to remind those around us of the goodness of Jesus. Those we live with, those we work with, those we study with in school, and those we come in contact with in our daily lives, should see Jesus in us.
His Ascension is proof that He has conquered every enemy, and that He reigns supremely far above all. In heaven today, our Lord ministers as our High Priest, and our Advocate. Therefore, He gives us the grace we need to deal with testing and temptations. And if we fail, we have His promise that He forgives and restores us when we confess our sins. As the glorified Head of the Church, Jesus is equipping His people to live for Him and serve Him in this present world. Through the word of God and prayer, He is ministering to us by His Spirit and making us more himself.
A point worth noting here is the character state of the disciples before and after the Ascension of our Lord. When Christ was around, they were fearful of getting themselves into trouble all on account of Him. They were apprehensive of risking their lives for Jesus, even though they – particularly Peter and Thomas – had orally professed allegiance to Him and would even die for him. But, when the hour of need came during His passion, the same disciples, His friends, denied Him and abandoned Him.
However, after the Ascension, things were very different. Peter and his group revealed their faithfulness toward God and the courage of conviction to accomplish the major task of bringing salvation to lost souls through the gospel and baptism. The expected hardships, the threat of hostility from those who were dead set against them, and even getting killed, could not deter them from witnessing and preaching the gospel – a stark contrast to what they were before Ascension. The reason: they were empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Witnessing is something that the Lord does – through us – if we are filled with the Holy Spirit. In other words, if we want to become good witnesses to the gospel for Jesus in this life, we too must be filled with the Holy Spirit. We will not be able to take on this massive task that our Lord has entrusted to His disciples or the church – without power from the Holy Spirit.
It appears that many Catholics are under the misconception that sharing the good news of salvation and the gospel with others, especially lost souls, is not within their purview. They feel that it is the job of the Priests, those in the religious order, and the church. Let’s not forget that those in the clergy (Priest and religious), and lay people – every one of them – form the church, which is the Body of Christ. Hence, it is incumbent upon each layperson, as well, to participate in witnessing to the gospel. We need to exhibit in our lives the attributes of Jesus to show how different a people we are, so that others can see in us how good Jesus is. Once nonbelievers perceive the Lord’s goodness in us; it will interest them to want to know more about Jesus and His gospel. Again, we cannot do this with our own efforts and strength without being renewed in our minds and transformed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit first. That was precisely the reason why Jesus had to send down His Holy Spirit to the disciples on Pentecost to continue His mission. And His Spirit will remain with us, and the church, till the end of this age, as He has promised.
In closing, let me say this; we need to turn to Jesus frequently in prayer for His help in our endeavors to witness for Him. Can we tell Him that He can also count on us to make Him and His teachings known everywhere we go? The story of the gospel does not end in the Ascension of Jesus. Let’s not forget that we are witnesses who point to Jesus Christ to tell lost souls how they can be saved.
Is the Gospel going out to the ends of the earth from “our Jerusalem“?
Can we all agree that there is plenty to be done for Him, to continue what He wants us accomplish, before He calls us home….
(Don Wilson is a parishioner at St. Edwards who is involved in numerous ministries and attends the Kateri Institute for Ministry Formation, that is run by our diocese. Don will offer this reflection for the Coxsackie REC program, of which he is a member.)