Ascension of the Lord

Readings: Reading 1, Acts 1:12-14. Responsorial Psalm, Psalms 27:1, 4, 7-8. Reading 2, First Peter 4:13-16. Gospel, John 17:1-11
Pastoral | 2020 May 20 | Fr. Antonio Martínez, OAR

The story of the ascension is only narrated by Mc (16,19) and Lc (24,50-52). Ascension is a moment of exaltation and fulfillment, in contrast to the moment of kenosis or annihilation of the incarnation. God came down from heaven to dwell among men. At the Ascension, the Son of man ascends into heaven to return to his Father, and thus to prepare the entrance of his brothers.

With our modern understanding of the world, the Ascension can be rather hard for us to comprehend. After all, surely if you go up and up into the sky, you don't go up into heaven at all, but you just end up going into outer space. So what was it that the apostles witnessed at the Ascension and what does the Ascension actually teach us? When or how did it happen? We cannot pinpoint either time or space. When did the Ascension, that is, the exaltation of Jesus at the right hand of the Father, take place? Immediately after the resurrection or after the time interval of those forty days the gospel speaks of? And, if so, where was Jesus between those dates? The theological difficulties that this time interval presents, incline us to think that Jesus ascended into heaven immediately after his resurrection. Fundamental reason: The glorification of Jesus means that upon the Resurrection itself He resumes all the attributes he had before, possessing as He does a divine nature equal to the Father. This seems to be the general opinion among the scholars today. Pedagogically, primitive catechesis separated the events of the resurrection and the ascension in order to give place and time to the appearances of Jesus, which were certainly real.

The ascension, as narrated in the Gospel, is the last moment of permanence of Jesus on earth, the last appearance to the disciples, after which Jesus rises to heaven never to return until his second coming, in the parousia. The remotest tradition designates the Mount of Olives as the place of ascension, a mountain located east of Jerusalem, separated from it by the Kidron torrent, at a "walking distance allowed on a Saturday", that is, a little over one kilometer, which is what Luke ensures with his usual precision.

It was at the Ascension that the apostles came to realize that Jesus Christ had been exalted to the heights of heaven, and although it is difficult to express what it must have been like to come to this conclusion, the point is not to dwell on exactly what the apostles experienced, but to dwell on what was promised. The promise of the Ascension is that since Christ has been exalted to the heights of heaven, we too can share in this exaltation.

After the Ascension, the disciples experienced a great joy because it was only then that they began to realize that what had happened to Jesus was going to happen to them one day. Thus, our hope in the celebration of the Ascension, is that we too will be raised up with Christ and be glorified with Him, and this is certainly a cause for great rejoicing.

When to the Ascension took place, the apostles were still not entirely ready. As St Luke recounts, the apostles were left amazed staring into heaven, and they had to be told by the two men in white “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was been taken up from you, will come in the same way as you saw him going into heaven”. The Ascension prepared the apostles for Pentecost, that decisive moment when the Holy Spirit inspired the apostles to go out into the streets, and give witness to the glory of Christ's death and resurrection.

From that Mount of Olives, before the splendid panorama of Jerusalem, the religious center and capital of Israel, Jesus said goodbye to a land where he had lived and died for the salvation of the world.

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