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THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD (Cycle B)
(for the 7th Sunday of Easter click here)

Readings:
Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47:2-3, 6-9
Ephesians 1:17-23
Mark 16:15-20

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 Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord (a solemnity that is a Holy Day of Obligation, requiring attendance at Mass according to the precepts of the Church): The Feast of the Ascension is the oldest yearly festival of the Church in addition to the celebration of the Lord's Resurrection.  This feast remembers the day Jesus' disciples witnessed His Ascension into heaven (The First Reading).  For forty days after His Resurrection, Jesus taught His Church and gave instructions to the Apostles and disciples before He ascended to the Father (Acts 1:1-3).  The day before His Ascension, He Celebrated one last dinner with His disciples, instructing them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait to be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5).  On the fortieth day from His Resurrection, Jesus led them out to the Mount of Olives.   Standing with His disciples on the Mount of Olives, Jesus gave them the mission of the New Covenant Church, telling them ... you will receive the power of the Holy Spirit which will come on you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to the earth's remotest end (Acts 1:8).  After Jesus ascended into Heaven in a cloud, the disciples returned to the Upper Room in Jerusalem and continued in prayer.  For nine days the 120 faithful of the New Covenant people of God prayed with the Virgin Mary (Acts 1:12-15) in preparation for the promised coming of God the Holy Spirit to fill and indwell the community of the faithful and to give the Church the continuing Divine Presence of the Christ.

In the Second Reading, St. Paul writes of the glory that leads to greater glories, just as the Ascension led to Pentecost.  He writes May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened.... And expressed the hope of their inheritance among the holy ones, the saints who have gone before us and have entered into God's heavenly Temple where "God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord" (Psalms response).  In our Gospel Reading, Jesus commissions His disciples to carry the Gospel message of salvation to the ends of the earth and to work miracles in His name.  Then Jesus ascends to the right hand of God the Father, but through the ministry of the Holy Spirit He continues to be with the disciples as the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.  This is the same way Jesus continues to be with all baptized Christians who are members of His Body and are promised a share in His glory.  He lives in us through the power of the Holy Spirit, and we work to fulfill the mission to carry His Gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth.

The First Reading Acts 1:1-11 ~ The Ascension of the Lord
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." 

In the introductory prologue, St. Luke connects Acts of Apostles with his Gospel account of Jesus' life and ministry until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the Apostles whom he had chosen (Lk 24:44-53).  Theophilus, to whom Luke's second volume is dedicated, is the same man to whom he dedicated his Gospel (see Lk 1:1-4).  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 St. Luke's Gospel dedication, we learned that the contents of the work were meant to support the catechesis that Theophilus had received: Just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us (Lk 1:2), so Theophilus may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received (Lk 1:4).

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 the first mention of the Holy Spirit's activity in the Church.  We are reminded that is it 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 (see the same Greek word in Wis 5:11 and 19:13).  Included in these "signs" would be 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 taught His Church for forty days between His Resurrection and His Ascension.  Where is the substance of those forty days of teaching?  Jesus' teaching those forty days is safeguarded in the deposit of our sacred oral Tradition just as Jesus' teaching during His three years of earthly ministry was given to the Church orally and only some of which is written down in the Gospels: "Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.  And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the Apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit.  It transmits it to the successors of the Apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound, and spread it abroad by their preaching ... Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence" (CCC 81-82, also see CCC 80, 83).

During this forty day period, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdala, to the eleven Apostles and to His men and women disciples.  He appeared privately to Peter and His kinsman James and to over 500 people at one time (Lk 24:13-15, 33-49; Jn 20:11-23, 26-27; 1 Cor 15:3-7).  Jesus spent those forty days teaching the Church by speaking about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3), just as the Gospels record that Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God (Mt 4:23; Mk 1:14-15; Lk 8:1).  St. Luke mentions the "Kingdom" over 30 times in his Gospel, and in Acts the Church continues that part of Jesus' earthly mission and takes 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 promised by Jesus.  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 3:3, 5), will use water baptism as the sacramental sign of spiritual re-birth and initiation into the Kingdom of the Church (Acts 2:41; 8:12, 38; 9:18, 10:48; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5).

Notice that Jesus is speaking about the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity in verses 4-5.  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit is revealed once again to us as at 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).  Jesus is explaining to them why He must leave them.  If Jesus 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 can be everywhere through the ministry of the Holy Spirit: 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. 
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 He 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.  His 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 (see for example, Mt 24:3, 36, 42-44; Mk 13:32).  Instead He tells them that part of His mission is under the Father's authority.  St. Paul spoke of this unknown "hour" in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 ~ 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. 

Acts 1:8 ~ 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 must wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Then they will be empowered to spread the Gospel.  They must start their mission in Jerusalem, then go to the rest of Judea, north into Samaria and finally to the "ends of the earth," which at that time was considered to be the extent of the Roman Empire.  By the time the last Apostle died, the Gospel of salvation had indeed reached the full extent of the Roman Empire and it has been the mission of succeeding generations of disciples to carry the message of salvation through Jesus Christ to the literal ends of the earth.  The internet has helped to make that final extent of the Gospel possible even into areas where Bibles and the Christian message of salvation are not permitted.

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. 
In Jesus' ascension into Heaven, the Apostles and disciples are witnessing the same vision as the prophet Daniel in Daniel 7:13-14 from an earthly perspective whereas Daniel's perspective is from the heavenly throne room: As the visions of the night continued, 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 serve him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.  They see what Daniel saw: the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven where He will go into the presence of the Father to be given power and authority over all nations.  It is the Scripture passage from the vision of Daniel that Jesus quoted from when asked by the High Priest at His trial before Jewish Sanhedrin if He was the Messiah (Mt 24:30; Mk 14:42; Lk 22:60).  Daniel's vision of what was for him a future event is now being fulfilled in the presence of Jesus' faithful followers.

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." 
Two angels appeared to tell the disciples that Jesus will return in the same way they saw Him leave: Jesus will come again to the Mount of Olives.  That the Lord will return to the Mount of Olives was a familiar prophecy to Jesus' Jewish disciples.  The late 6th century BC prophet Zechariah prophesied God the Divine King coming in judgment at the end of the Age of Man.  The event was to take place as His feet touched down on the Mount of Olives:  That day his feet shall rest on 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 ... Then the LORD, my God, shall come, and all his holy ones with him.  On that day there shall no longer be cold or frost.  There shall be one continuous day, known to the LORD, not day and night, for in the evening time there shall be light.  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.  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 (Zec 14:4, 6-9).

We don't know when Christ is returning, but we know one day He will come.  The question is will we be ready to receive Him on that day of glory and divine judgment?  And may he so confirm your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless in the sight of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones (1 Thes 3:13 NJB).

Responsorial Psalm 47:2-3, 6-9 ~ God is King of all the Earth
The response is: "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
8For king of all the earth is God; sing hymns of praise.  9 God reigns over the nations, God sits upon his holy throne.
Response

This psalm presents the invitation to sing praise to God the great King (verse 2) and then gives the reasons for the praise (verses 6-9).  God has chosen Israel through whom to cause His glory to be present to the nations.  The psalmist calls on all peoples of the earth to acknowledge the universal rule of Israel's God (verses 2-3, 6-7) who is enthroned as the Divine King over Israel and all nations (8-9).  Then, in verse 6, the psalmist calls for liturgical praise for God who is enthroned in His heavenly Temple where He rules over heaven and earth. 

Christians can respond to the praise in his psalm by reflecting on the kingship of Jesus Christ.  In the Apostolic Age, the Church saw verse 5 as being fulfilled in the Ascension of Jesus Christ into Heaven (see Acts 1:1-11; Heb 9:24-28; 10:19-23).  It is the reason this psalm came to be used on the Feast of the Ascension to profess faith in Christ as King of the universe whose kingship transcends all earthly rulers and their nations.  As the king of all nations, God binds humanity as one people through the ministry of His Divine Son, Jesus Christ, and His Kingdom of the Church.  The universal (catholic) Church is composed of the faithful of every language, race, and nation bound together as One Body in Christ the King.

The Second Reading Ephesians 1:17-23 ~ The Glorification of the Christ
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.  23 And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.

St. Paul is moved to give thanksgiving and prayer as he contemplates how wonderful it is to know God's goodness.  He asks God to give this gift to the readers of his letter (verses 17-19).  His petition for this blessing hinges on Jesus Christ through whom God has revealed His power by giving God the Son dominion over all the earth (verse 20-21) and establishing Him as the Head of the Body of the Church (verses 22-23; also see Rom 12:4f; 1 Cor 12:12ff).  The God whom St. Paul petitions is "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ."  By this phrase Paul is referring to God who has revealed Himself to man through Jesus Christ and to whom Jesus Himself, as a man, prayed and asked for assistance (Lk 22:42).  It is Jesus Christ to whom God has given all power and authority over every age of man and has made Him the head of the Church, whose members are His Body and who are promised a share in His glory.

The Gospel of Mark 16:15-20 ~ Jesus Gives the Great Commission to His Disciples and Ascends to the Father
15 He said to them, "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.  16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.  17 These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages.  18 They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.  They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."  19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God.  20 But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.

Jesus' resurrection appearance to the Apostles is recorded in detail in Luke 24:36-49 where Jesus opens their minds to understanding the Scriptures and in John 20:19-23 where Jesus breaths the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and gives them the power to "bind and loose" sins as they govern the Church, His Kingdom of Heaven on earth.  He will appear privately to St. Peter and to also St. James His kinsman who became the first Christian bishop of Jerusalem and to more than 500 disciples at one time (1 Cor 15:5-7).  In verse 15 Jesus gives His disciples the commission to carry the Gospels to the ends of the earth and to work miracles in His name.  Each of the "signs" of power that He gives the Apostles is recorded in Acts of Apostles, including St. Paul experience with a snake (Acts 2:4-8; 5:16; 28:3-6).

Jesus makes an important statement about baptism in verse 16.  Baptism is necessary for salvation!  God will save whomever He wants, but the Church has been given no other way to bring mankind to salvation other than the Sacrament of Baptism.  See CCC 1257.

Mark 16:19-20 ~ The Ascension of the Christ
19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God.  20 But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.
The Ascension of the Christ is given in greater detail in our First Reading in Acts chapter 1, but St. Mark does give some significant information that is not included in the other account: [He] took his seat at the right hand of God.  Jesus rules over mankind from the right hand of the Father in the heavenly Sanctuary, just as the prophet Daniel saw in his vision: 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 serve himHis dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed" (Dan 7:13-14).  In Jesus' Ascension to the Father, the promise of the Davidic Covenant has been fulfilled in which God promised David "Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever" (2 Sam 7:16). 

Even though Jesus has ascended to the Father, He did not abandon His disciples nor did He abandon us to make our journey to salvation alone.  Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit: the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs (verse 20)The miracles the disciples worked in His name confirmed for them His divine presence throughout their mission to carry the Gospel forward to the ends of the earth, and in the Sacraments He gave His Church, Jesus continues to nourish, protect and guide us on our journey to salvation and to enable us to carry out our covenant obligations.  The command the disciples received to Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature is the same commissioning every baptized Christian receives in the Sacrament of Confirmation.  We are called to take up the mantle of apostleship and to fearlessly proclaim the Gospel of salvation so that one day, when we too ascend to the heavenly kingdom of our Lord, we will be welcomed with the words: "Well done, my good and faithful servant!"

Catechism References:

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)
Ephesians 1:17-23 (CCC 2632); 1:18 (CCC 158); 1:19-22 (CCC 272, 648); 1:20-22 (CCC 668); 1:22-23 (CCC 830); 1:22 (CCC 669, 753, 2045)
Mark 16:15 (CCC 888) 16:16 (CCC 161, 183, 1253, 1256, 1257); Mk 16:17-18 (CCC 699); 16:19 (CCC 659); 16:20 (CCC 2, 156, 670)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015