Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. After his Resurrection, Jesus revealed himself to his disciples in a series of appearances. “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.” But now these appearances come to an end. His Ascension is the definitive “last moment” of Jesus’ visible presence on earth. Today’s first reading describes it this way: “as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.”
It is a glorious event! Today’s Psalm proclaims: “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy; a blare of trumpets for the Lord!” Jesus ascending to his heavenly throne is to be met with loud and enthusiastic praises! “For the LORD, the Most High, the awesome, is the great king over all the earth!”
Today’s Gospel describes Jesus’ final moments on earth in the context of an act of worship. St. Matthew notes that the eleven disciples went “to the mountain,” which in the Bible represents a sacred place of encounter with God, a place of worship. He goes further by saying that when the disciples saw Jesus, “they worshiped.” Jesus is the Risen and Glorious Lord, worthy of divine worship. Yet even at this glorious moment, Matthew notes a weakness in the hearts of the disciples: “they worshiped, but they doubted.” The stupendousness of his Passion, Death and Resurrection is still too overwhelming to fathom, and now Jesus Christ, with his Ascension, reveals another incomprehensible action.
At the same time, he helps the disciples understand what he is doing and what he is commissioning them to do. He gives us the same message in today’s feast. He assures us, “all power in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” and “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” By proclaiming to us that he is all-powerful and that he is always with us, he is strengthening our weak faith. The opposite of doubt is faith. With faith in him, in this awesome, great and all-powerful King, we can go forward on the mission he entrusts to us.
What is our mission? “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” We are to cast aside our doubts and go forth, sharing with everyone the gift of faith that we have received. This gift is given in the powerful Sacrament of Baptism, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” This Baptism is different from the baptism of John. John used water as a symbol of repentance. In the Sacrament of Baptism, the water fills us with the power of God, “with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Lk 3:16).
St. Paul in today’s second reading speaks of the gift of “a Spirit of wisdom and revelation” resulting in knowledge of God. This knowledge leads to the enlightening of the eyes of our hearts, to strengthening our hope, and to inheriting “the riches of glory.” We must not underestimate the power of the Spirit at work in us, “the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.” The Spirit, the very Power behind Christ’s Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension, dwells in the heart of every baptized believer. We have the power to fulfill our mission!
The proclamation of the Gospel and the grace of Baptism are to be offered to all nations, to the ends of the earth – that is, all space. This mission is also to continue until the end of the age – that is, all time. How can the disciples, mere finite human beings, possibly do this? How can we do it? What is impossible for us is not impossible for God, and he is always with us! As Pope Francis points out in this week’s Spiritual Reflection, Matthew’s Gospel begins and ends with this assurance from the Lord. At the beginning, like one bookend, stands the revelation that Jesus will be known as Emmanuel, which means “God is with us” (Mt 1:23); the other bookend is today’s reading: “I am with you always…” Faith assures us that Jesus, ascended to the Father, continues to remain with us. When we take on our mission, we do so with his power, in his presence. This is truly amazing! “Sing praise to God, sing praise; sing praise to our King, sing praise!”
What ought to be our response to such a praiseworthy mission? Obedient faith is the key! When Jesus summoned the disciples to go to the mountain, they obeyed and received their commission. When he told them not to depart from Jerusalem, they obeyed and received the Holy Spirit, who empowered them to be witnesses to the ends of the earth.
After pondering on Jesus’ suffering, death, Resurrection and Ascension, is my faith strong or as weak as the Apostles? Am I able to cast aside my doubts and fears and go forth to share the gift of faith that I have received in Baptism? Do I understand that the power of the Spirit is at work in me to fulfill my mission?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 16, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.