FEAST OF THE ASCENSION (Cycle C)

Readings:
Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47:2-3, 6-9
Ephesians 1:17-23 or alternate reading Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:19-23
Luke 24:46-53

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The theme of the readings for the Feast of the Ascension: The Hope of Heaven in the Ascension of the Savior
In the first reading St. Luke describes the Ascension of the Christ through the eyes of the disciples.  It is only because of Jesus' self-sacrificial death on the altar of the Cross and His resurrection and ascension into Heaven that we have the hope of God's gift of eternal salvation.  Prior to the coming of Jesus Christ, the destination of all the dead, the righteous and the wicked, was Sheol, the grave/netherworld where all souls awaited the coming of the Redeemer-Messiah (see CCC 633). 

Today's psalm gives us a prophetic vision of Christ after His Ascension to the heavenly Tabernacle as He takes His rightful place the Lamb of God who is "Lord of lords and King of kings" (Rev 17:14; also see 19:16).  Our theme of the hope of Heaven continues in the Second Reading as St. Paul speaks of Christ's Ascension and the promise of our "inheritance" of salvation when we will also ascend to the Father to live in the divine Presence forever. 

The Gospel reading comes at the end of St. Luke's Gospel and is the same account of Jesus' Ascension that we read about in the First Reading.  The Gospel Reading provides a continuous narrative for St. Luke's two works from his Gospel and from Acts of the Apostles in the account of the completion of Jesus' earthly ministry as He ascends to the Father in Heaven, followed by the narrative of the ministry of Jesus' Apostles and disciples who continue Jesus mission on earth.

The First Reading Acts 1:1-11 ~ The Ascension of the Christ
1 In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught 2 until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the Apostles whom he had chosen.  3 He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.  4 While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for "the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; 5 for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." 6 When they had gathered together they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"  7 He answered them, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.  8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  9 When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.  10 While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.  11 They said, "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." 

St. Luke connects Acts of Apostles with his Gospel account of Jesus' life and ministry with the statement that his Gospel dealt with all that Jesus did and taught 2 until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the Apostles whom he had chosen.   St. Luke dedicates the second volume of his work to Theophilus, the same man to whom Luke dedicated his Gospel.  Theophilus, a name meaning "God-lover/ lover of God," is an unknown early Christian who may have provided the funds for the handwritten copies of this work, as he may have done for Luke's Gospel (Lk 1:3). 

In Acts 1:2 Luke sees all of Jesus' ministry as directed by the Holy Spirit, including the instructions to the Apostles (as he also expressed in his Gospel in Lk 4:1, 14, 18, 36; 10:21).  This is Luke's first mention of the Holy Spirit's activity in the Church.  We are reminded that it is by the Holy Spirit that Jesus commissioned the Apostles after His Resurrection (Jn 20:23-24).

Acts 1:3 He presented himself alive to them by many proofs [tekmerion] after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 
The Greek word tekmerion suggests convincing signs or evidence of His resurrection.  Included in these "signs" are touching Jesus' wounds (Jn 20:27), eating meals with His disciples (Lk 24:42-43; Jn 21:12-14), and appearing and disappearing without physically passing through doors (Jn 20:19).  According to Acts 1:3, the resurrected Christ continued to teach His Church for forty days between His Resurrection and His Ascension.  Forty is a significant number in salvation history.  Here are only a few significant events in Scripture associated with the number forty:

In the significance of numbers in Scripture, forty is a number symbolizing both testing and consecration.  See the document "The Significance of Numbers in Scripture."

The resurrected Jesus appeared to Mary Magdala, to the eleven Apostles and to the men and women disciples who were with them (Mt 28:9; Mk 16:9, 12, 14; Lk 24:13-15; 34-43; Jn 20:15-29; 21:1).  He also appeared privately to Peter, to His kinsman James, and to over 500 people at one time (Lk 24:34; 1 Cor 5-6).  In the Gospels Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God, and St. Luke tells us that mission continued during the forty days between His Resurrection and Ascension as He spent His last days with His disciples teaching the Church by speaking about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).  St. Luke mentions the "Kingdom" over 30 times in his Gospel.  In Acts of Apostles Luke's narrative continues with the Church taking up the message of the proclaiming the "Kingdom" (Acts 1:3, 6; 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31).

Acts 1:4-5  While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for "the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; 5 for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
To remain in the city of Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit is the same command Jesus gave the disciples in Luke 24:49.  The baptism of the Holy Spirit was foretold by St. John the Baptist in Matthew 3:11 and is now repeated by Jesus as He also promised in His Last Supper Discourse in John 14:26; 15:26 and 16:7-8.  The Apostles, obedient to Jesus' command to baptize (Mt 28:19) and His teaching that one cannot enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit (Jn 3:5), will use water baptism as a sacramental sign of spiritual re-birth and initiation into the Kingdom (Acts 2:41; 8:12, 38; 9:18, 10:48; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5; also see CCC 1257).

Notice that in this passage the unique relationship of the Trinity.  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit is revealed once again to us as in Jesus' baptism (Mt 3:16-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-22) and the Transfiguration (Mt 17:1-8; Mk 9:2-8; Lk 9:28-36).  If Jesus had stayed on earth, His physical, human presence would have been limited by time and space which would have limited the spread of the Gospel.  But after His Ascension to the Father, His spiritual presence could be everywhere through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus spoke about the coming of the Holy Spirit most clearly in His homily at the Last Supper, recorded by St. John in John chapters 14-17.  The Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Comforter, will be sent so that Christ will dwell within the lives of His disciples through a spiritual baptism and to dwell within body of the Church in the Eucharist and to comfort to guide and to teach: But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go.  For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send him to you (Jn 16:7).

Acts 1:6-7  When they had gathered together they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"  7 He answered them, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.  8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
The Apostles and disciples may be expecting the Messianic Kingdom to be a political fulfillment like the Davidic Kingdom and liberation from their Roman oppressors.  But what the disciples are asking might also concern what Jesus prophesied concerning the completion of His mission in the "coming of the Son of Man."  His mission will not be completed until He returns in judgment at the end of time.  Jesus' discourse about His Second Advent and the Last Judgment is recorded in the Gospels (Mt 24:29-44; 25:31-46; Mk 13:24-37; Lk 21:25-28).  Notice that Jesus does not rebuke them for their question which He has always done in the past when they are in error, and He gives them the same answer He gave in those Gospel discourses concerning His Second Advent (see for example, Mt 24:3, 36, 42-44; Mk 13:32).  It is a part of His mission is under the Father's authority.  St. Paul spoke of this unknown "hour": Concerning times and seasons, brothers, you have no need for anything to be written to you.  For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night (1 Thes 5:1-2).

Jesus commands them to wait in Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Then He gives them His marching orders for the spread of the Gospel.  It is through the ministry of the Holy Spirit that His disciples will be empowered to spread proclaim the Gospel of salvation.  They must start in Jerusalem, then go to the rest of Judea, north into Samaria and finally to the "ends of the earth," which is probably understood to be the distant parts of the Roman Empire.

Acts 1:9  When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. 
They see what the prophet Daniel saw in Daniel 7:13: the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven from where He will go into the presence of the Father to be given power and authority over all nations: I saw one like a son of man coming on the clouds of heaven; when he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, he received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language served him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away; his kingship shall not be destroyed.

Acts 1:10-12  While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.  11 They said, "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."  12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away.
Travel on the Sabbath was restricted to not more than 3/4th of a mile or about 1000 meters.  The Mt. of Olives was within this distance from Jerusalem.  Two angels appeared and told the disciples that Jesus will return in the same way they saw Him leave— to the Mt. of Olives, east of the city of Jerusalem.

The announcement of the angels the Jesus will return to the Mt. of Olives would not have been a surprise to the disciples.  The late 6th century BC prophet Zechariah prophesied Jesus' last journey to Jerusalem, His Passion and the promise of His return.  Zechariah writes about God's Shepherd and the scattering of His disciples.  The scattering of the Shepherd's "sheep" in Zechariah 13:7 is quoted in Matthew 26:31Zechariah 13:8-9 may be a description of the historical destruction of Judea and Jerusalem in the Jewish Revolt of 66-70 AD by the Romans that was prophesied by Jesus His last teaching day in Jerusalem (Mt 24:1-22; Mk 13:14-23; Lk 21:5-23).  But Zechariah chapter 14 might also be a prophecy of the final fight for Jerusalem at the end of the Age of Man and the return of God the Son in divine glory to save His holy city: That day his feet shall rest upon the Mount of Olives, which is opposite Jerusalem to the east.  The Mount of Olives shall be cleft in two from east to west by a very deep valley, and half of the mountain shall move to the north and half of it to the south.  5 And the valley of the LORD's mountain shall be filled up when the valley of those two mountains reaches its edge; it shall be filled up as it was filled up by the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah.  Then the LORD, my God, shall come, and all his holy ones with him.  6 On that day there shall no longer be cold or frost.  7 There shall be one continuous day, known to the LORD, not day and night, for in the evening time there shall be light.  8 On that day, living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea, and half to the western sea, and it shall be so in summer and in winter.  9 The LORD shall become king over the whole earth; on that day the LORD shall be the only one, and his name the only one (Zech 14:4-9).

Notice that the description of the return of the LORD similar to what the angels told the disciples in Acts 1:11 and is similar to the description of the new heaven and new earth at the end of time in Revelation 21:1-22:5.  The angels told the disciples that God the Son will return to the Mt. of Olives in His Second Advent.  It is a return and a promise of the resurrection of mankind that all Christians look forward to.  As St. Paul wrote: We can tell you this from the Lord's own teaching, that we who are still alive for the Lord's coming will not have any advantage over those who have fallen asleep.  At the signal given by the voice of the Archangel and the trumpet of God, the Lord himself will come down from heaven; those who have died in Christ will be the first to raise, and only after that shall we who remain alive be taken up in the clouds, together with them to meet the Lord in the air.  This is the way we shall be with the Lord for ever (1 Thes 4:16-17 NJB).

Responsorial Psalm 47:2-3, 6-9 ~ God Enthroned in the Heavenly Temple
Response: "God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord" or "Alleluia."
2 All you peoples, clap your hands, shout to God with cries of gladness.  3 For the LORD, the Most High, the awesome, is the great king over all the earth.
Response:
6 God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy; the LORD, amid trumpet blasts.  7 Sing praise to God, sing praise; sing praise to our king, sing praise.
Response:
8 For king of all the earth is God; sing hymns of praise.  9 God reigns over the nations, God sits upon his holy throne.
Response:

The psalmist calls on the nations to acknowledge the universal rule of Israel's God (verses 2-3) who is enthroned as the divine King over Israel and all the nations of the earth (verses 6-9).  Christian liturgical tradition has applied verse 6, God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy; the LORD... to the Ascension of the Christ.  As we sing of God enthroned, we have the hope that one day we will join the saints in praise around His throne to witness the same vision of St. John in Revelation chapters 4-6, seeing Christ the Lamb of God enthroned as King of kings in the heavenly Sanctuary.

The Second Reading Ephesians 1:17-23 or alternate reading Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:19-23
Ephesians 1:17-23 ~ The Unity of the Church and the Hope of Eternal Salvation
17 [May] the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.  18 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 in his inheritance among the holy ones, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, 20 which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, 21 far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come.  22 And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the Church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.

St. Paul is speaking of an intimate knowledge of the Father through Christ Jesus.  This "Spirit of wisdom" is the gift of God's grace.  18 May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened... in the language of the Bible, the heart is understood to be the seat of all knowledge and understanding.  One's heart expresses the true moral essence of a person.  God knows the human heart (Lk 16:15; Acts 1:24; Rom 8:27), man is called to love God with an undivided heart (Dt 6:5; Mk 12:29-30), and God's gift of the Spirit dwells in the human heart (Rom 5:5; 2 Cor 1:22; Gal 4:6) where Christ makes His home (Eph 3:17).   

that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones... The glory of Christ leads to greater glory still as we are promised divine life through the Holy Spirit which begins with our purification and rebirth in Christian baptism.  Our "hope" is inheritance among the holy ones; that one day we will live among the saints who have ascended to the Father and live as adopted sons and daughters in God's holy family.

21 far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion... These are cosmic powers that are under the dominion of Jesus Christ the King who rules both heaven and earth from the seat of power and glory to the right of God the Father (Col 1:16; a href ="http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/colossians/colossians2.htm#v10">2:10).

22 And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the Church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.  Christ is the head of His Body which is the Church (also see Col 1:18).  As God fills Christ, Christ in turn fills His Church and each baptized believer within His Church with His divine life and the hope of heaven. 

The Alternate Second Reading Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:19-23The first of these two passages present the Ascension of Christ as a priestly act (Heb 9:24-28), and the second explains the meaning of this mystery to us (Heb 10:19-23).
Hebrews 9:24-28 (NJB) ~ Jesus, Our One Perfect Sacrifice:
24 For Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one, but heaven itself, that he might now appear before God on our behalf.  25 Not that he might offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary with blood this is not his own; 26 if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly from the foundation of the world.  But now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice.  27 Just as it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment, 28 so also Christ, offered once to take away the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.
Hebrews 10:19-23 (NJB) ~ Christian Entrance into the Heavenly Sanctuary
19 Therefore, brothers, since through the blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary 20 by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, 21 and since we have "a great priest over the house of God," 22 let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.  23 Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy.

23 Therefore, it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified by these rites, but the heavenly things themselves by better sacrifices than these.  24 For Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one, but heaven itself, that he might now appear before God on our behalf.  25 Not that he might offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary with blood this is not his own.
In Hebrews 9:19-28 the inspired writer is referring to the yearly sacrifices on the Feast of Atonement, known in Hebrew as Yom Kippur, "Day of Covering," in which the sins of the covenant people were "covered" in a communal reconciliation sacrifice and liturgical worship service (Lev chapter 16).  Unlike the Old Covenant high priest who had to offer multiple imperfect sacrifices for the sins of the people year after year, Jesus Christ, our High Priest offering atonement for our sins in the heavenly Sanctuary, offers the continual, single, perfect sacrifice of Himself for the sins of all mankind.

Earthly things are not in themselves holy—they must be purified; this is what made the Old Covenant purification rites necessary.  Heavenly things, however, are already pure.  From the time of the Fall of Adam the sacrificial blood of animals accompanied by confession and contrition became a cleansing and atoning symbol which foreshadowed Christ's one perfect sacrifice: Since the life of a living body is in its blood, I have made you put it on the altar, so that atonement may thereby be made for your own lives, because it is the blood, as the seat of life, that makes atonement (Lev 17:11).  But unlike the High Priest on the Day of Atonement, Jesus, our High Priest, did not offer blood that was not His own.  He offered the one perfect sacrifice that would have the power to forgive sins—His own flesh and His own blood—fulfilling what had only been a symbol in past ages.

26 if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly from the foundation of the world.   But now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice.  What Jesus offers is one perfect but on-going sacrifice—it is why He is the Lamb Standing before the throne of God "as though he was slain" (Rev 5:6).  He was selected before the foundation of the earth to offer Himself in atonement for our sins (1 Pt 1:20-21).  "At the end of the ages" is an expression signifying the Second Advent of Christ, the end of the world as we know it and the de-creation and regeneration that will occur at that eschatological event (see Mt 24:37-44; Lk 17:26-27; 34-35; 1Cor 15:23-28; 1 Thes 4:13-18; 1 Tim 2:3-4; 2 Pt 3:10-13; Rev 20:11-21:2; and #1001">CCC# 1001-2).

27 Just as it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment, 28 so also Christ, offered once to take away the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.
After death there is individual judgment (see CCC# 1021-22).  This completely eliminates any discussion of reincarnation for Christians (CCC# 1013).  For human life on earth the finality of death is the one time, unrepeatable act except in the case of Lazarus and others who were miraculously raised from death.  There are also certain unique cases through the intervention of medical science (with the ascent of God) where people are revived to live and die again; these exceptions, however are resuscitations not resurrections.  The Preface of Christian Death I in the Roman Missal reads: Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended.  When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.

As death comes to most mortals as an unrepeatable act, so too Jesus' bloody death was an unrepeatable sacrifice that was offered once and for all time achieving atonement and redemption for mankind as a whole.  All subsequent offering of His one unique sacrifice are therefore unbloody, as in the sacrifice of the Mass (see CCC# 1330 and the document "Is the Eucharist a True Sacrifice?" in the documents section of www.AgapeBibleStudy.com).

In Hebrews 9:28, ... to take away the sins of many is a quote from Isaiah 53:12 ~ Therefore I will give him his portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; and he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses..  The Greek verb anaphero [an-af-er'-o] used in this phrase can mean either to "take away," "take up", or "to bear."  The inspired writer is making use of the double meaning of this verb to convey that by His atoning death on the Cross Jesus both bore our sins and took them away. 

The word "many" in 9:28 has the Semitic meaning of "all" in the inclusive sense.  It is used in the same sense in Mark 14:24 in Jesus words at the Last Supper: He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many [all]."  In 9:28 (and as he will repeat in 10:19) the inspired writer is alluding to the action of the High Priest on the Feast of Atonement in disappearing behind the "veil" (the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies; Ex 26:31-33) to enter into the innermost sanctum of the Temple to offer sacrifice for the people and then reappearing after the sacrifice has been accepted by God.  The inspired writer (who is probably St. Paul) is comparing this event to Jesus' Ascension to the Father in the cloud in Acts 1:9 when He enter the Holy of Holies of heaven as the unblemished sacrifice and to His promised return in the Second Advent when He will reappear from behind the "veil" of eternity at the end of the Age.  For the Prophet Daniel's vision of Jesus entering the heavenly Sanctuary see Daniel 7:9-14.  The vision is, as was already mentioned, what happened after Jesus left the sight of the disciples on the Mount of Olives in Acts 1:9.

19 Therefore, brothers, since through the blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary 20 by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh 21 and since we have "a great priest over the house of God"...
The sins of the people separated them from the presence of God.  The visual representation of this separation was the "veil" that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies in the Temple.  Once a year on the Feast of Atonement the High Priest entered through the veil into the Holy of Holies to make expiation for the sins of the people (Lev 16:16, 34).  This "veil" was torn from top to bottom when Jesus gave up His life on the Cross, signifying that God had accepted His sacrifice and the way to eternal salvation was now opened (Mt 27:51; Mk 15:37; Lk 23:45 and CCC# 433; 536, 1026).  Jesus is now the eternal High Priest of the New Covenant people of God, and there is no separation between God and His people who are one with Him through receiving the Body and Blood of Christ's sacrifice in the Eucharist.

22 let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.
Through the sacrament of Baptism, our hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water (Heb 10:21)This is the visible sign of the water and blood that flowed from the side of Jesus on the Cross in John 19:34, a symbol of baptism and the Eucharist.  The application of that grace came to the Church when the Holy Spirit was received by the faithful at Pentecost.  The sprinkling of the nations with clean water was a prophecy of the gift of the Sacrament of Baptism to all the nations of the world given by God to His holy prophet in Ezekiel 36:25 (also see CCC 536-57; 715; 1287).

The inspired writer now gives a warning: 23 Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy.  24 We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works.  25 We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.
We must "hold unwaveringly to our confession" of faith made at our baptism in which we vowed belief (or was vowed in our behalf by our parents and God parents and repeated by us in the Sacrament of Confirmation) that we believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  It is this confession which identifies us as Christians and a confession we repeat in the Easter Sunday liturgy when the priest asks the congregation "Do you believe....?"  It is a belief we profess in the Creed. Notice in verse 24 how love of God and our demonstration of works of mercy are related in our journey to salvation.  St. James wrote for just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead (Jam 2:26). 

The inspired writer stresses the significance of "the day drawing near" and the importance of attending "our assembly" in verse 25.  "The Day" is usually a reference to the coming Day of Judgment when Christ will return.  In this case, however, it could be a reference to the Day of Judgment on the city of Jerusalem which Jesus prophesized would take place in the lifetime of the Apostles (Mt 23:33-39; 24:1-3, 15-25; Mk 14:14-23 and Lk 21:20-24).  In the late 60's AD lawlessness was increasing.  Revolt was fermenting across the Roman Empire and among the people in the Roman Province of Judea were many who were ready to throw off the Roman yoke of oppression.  If this letter is written prior to 64 AD, Jewish persecution of Christians has been intense in Judea but not as intense outside of the province.  Prior to 64 AD the Roman authorities were more or less ambivalent to Christians, considering them to be just another sect of the Hebrew faith.  That ambivalence changed after the fire that destroyed three-fourths of Rome in 64 AD when the Roman Emperor Nero made Christians the scapegoats for the devastating fire and official Roman persecution of Christians began.  The reference to being faithful to Christian assembly on the Lord's Day may point to more intense persecution which has caused some Jewish-Christians to turn away from Christian worship and back to the safety Old Covenant worship in the Temple.  From the time of the Sinai Covenant, "resting" in the Lord on the 7th day, the Old Covenant Sabbath (Saturday), was a command of the Covenant (Ex 20:8-11; 23:12; 31:15-17; 34:21; Lev 23:3-8).  With the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, "the new creation in Christ" required a new day of entering God's "rest" in worship through a sacred assembly, and that day became the 1st day of the week (the day of the Resurrection), the Lord's Day (Mk 16:9; Lk 20:19; Acts 20:7; Rev 1:10).

For us, however, we should take seriously the warning that is necessary to gather together to worship in the assembly of the faithful on "the Lord's Day" in preparation for His Second Advent.  Celebrating the risen Savior on the Lord's Day and entering into God's "rest" prefigures the hope of our "eternal rest" and our promise of worship in the heavenly Sanctuary.  It is a sin to purposely avoid the sacred assembly of Christ's faithful in the celebration of the Eucharist on the Lord's Day without a legitimate reason for failing to come together in union with the Church to worship God.  See CCC# 2180-81.

The Gospel Reading Luke 24:46-53 ~ Jesus' Appearance to the Disciples in Jerusalem and His Ascension from the Mount of Olives
46 And he said to them, "Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day 47 and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  48 You are witnesses of these things.  49 "And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."  50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands and blessed them.  51 As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.  52 They did him homage and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the Temple praising God.

46 And he said to them, "Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things." 
Universal power and kingship now belongs to the risen Jesus; therefore, He confers upon the eleven ministers of His Church a universal mission to teach the Gospel message of salvation and the baptize believers from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.  Notice that Jesus links repentance to the forgiveness of sins and the call to salvation.  Without genuine repentance (the changing of one's heart from rebellion to obedience towards God) there can be no forgiveness of sins (see for example Mt 3:2; Lk 1:77; 3:8; 5:32; 13:3; Acts 2:38; 3:19, 26; 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 17:30; 26:20). 

Between Jesus' appearances to His disciples and Apostles on Resurrection Sunday and His Ascension there is a forty day period in which Jesus continues to teach the Church, appearing and disappearing at will (Acts 1:3).  He will meet with them in the Galilee, as He told them at the Last Supper (Mt 26:32) and as the angel instructed them (Mt 28:7).  St. John's Gospel will give a lengthy account of that meeting (Jn 21:1-23).  After the Galilee, the disciples and Apostles will return to Jerusalem just before the pilgrim feast of Weeks, also known by the Greek title Pentecost, which means "fiftieth day" (Dt 16:16).  It was a feast that was counted fifty days from the celebration of Firstfruits (as the ancients counted) and like the Feast of Firstfruits it always fell on the first day of the week (Lev 23:15-21; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 13.8.4 [252].  Jesus will meet with them one final time before He leads them out to the Mt. of Olives and ascends to the Father (Lk 24:49; Acts 1:4-5). 

Luke 24:49-53 ~ The Ascension
49 "And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."  50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands and blessed them.  51 As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.  52 They did him homage and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the Temple praising God.
"The promise of my Father" that Jesus is sending is the Paraclete—God the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:15-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7-8).  Notice the procession of the Holy Spirit in these passages from the Father and the Son.  It is what we profess in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed.  The disciples obediently returned to the same Upper Room in Jerusalem where they held the Last Supper.  It was there, in obedience to Jesus' command that the Apostles, the men and women disciples, the Virgin Mary and Jesus' kinsmen all remained in prayer for nine days as the united 120 members of the first Christian community (Acts 1:13-15).  Under the Old Covenant traditions, 120 was the minimum number required for forming a religious community.  They continued in prayer, waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Jewish feast of Pentecost on the tenth day after Jesus' Ascension (Acts chapter 2).  It is for this reason that a "novena," a prayer with a single petition (in Latin "novem," meaning "nine"), lasts for nine days.  After the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles continued Jesus' earthly mission by devoted themselves to teaching the community, breaking bread together, and fearlessly going to the Temple daily to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:42, 46-47).  To continue Jesus' earthly mission is still the mission of the Church on earth today.  Every one of her citizens have the same obligation to study Jesus' teachings, to meet together to break bread in the Eucharist, and to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ to the world.

Catechism references for The Feast of the Ascension

Acts 1:1-2 (CCC 512), 1:3 (CCC 659), 1:6-7 (CCC 672), 1:7 (CCC 474, 673), 1:8 (CCC 672, 730, 735, 857, 1287), 1:9 (CCC 659, 697), 1:10-11 (CCC 333), 1:11 (CCC 665).

Psalms 47:2-3, 6-9 (CCC 783, 786, 908, 2105)

Ephesians 1:17-23 (CCC 2632), 1:18 (CCC 158), 1:19-22 (CCC 272, 648), 1:21-22 (CCC 668), 1:22-23 (CCC 830), 1:22 (CCC 669, 753, 2045).

Alternate reading Hebrews 9:24 (CCC 519, 662, 2741), 9:25 (CCC 662), 9:26 (CCC 571), 9:27 (CCC 1013, 1021), 10:19-21 (CCC 1137), 10:19 (CCC 2778), 10:23 (CCC 1817).

Luke 24:46 (CCC 627), 24:47-48 (CCC 730), 24:47 (CCC 981, 1120, 1122), 24:48-49 (CCC 1304), 24:51 (CCC 659)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013, revised 2016