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cappie

THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD

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cappie

The Ascension is a building block of the Christian faith, more than a relic of history, we profess Jesus’s ascension week-after-week in the words of the Creed  Each year, after we celebrate his  resurrection, we celebrate our Lord being taken up.

We hear two accounts of Jesus’ ascending this day: one from the Gospel of Luke and the other from the book of Acts. We are invited to stand shoulder-to-shoulder alongside the disciples, to hear Jesus’s proclamation of the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. And just as those first disciples, we are invited to have our own minds opened to the scriptures as our Lord vanishes in the clouds. “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” the strange messengers ask 

In a flash, their lord, their teacher and friend, has disappeared. Why did Jesus have to leave? Could he not have stayed? Why did he have to ascend?
There have been several answers to the question of why Jesus ascended in the history of the Church. One of the most lasting answers has been to see Jesus’ ascension as necessarily making possible our own ascension to God. Just as he was taken up, so will each of us be taken up at the last into the nearer presence of God. “Mighty Lord, in thine ascension,” the old hymn goes, “we by faith behold our own.”

Witnessing Jesus ascend, in other words, is like witnessing humanity’s fate played out in plain, sight. Jesus went back up to God to prepare our place, to pave our way up there. This is, in no small part, the beautiful promise of Jesus’ ascension.

We can take heart that in the moment that, as Jesus is lifted up, the disciples are standing alongside one another—they are not alone. In their wonder and amazement and confusion, the disciples are together, as they begin to cope with Jesus’ absence, as they learn to live into this new way of love.
In the wake of Jesus’ absence, the disciples experience something unexpected. With their faces turned to the sky, the disciples see Jesus blessings, as the Gospel of Luke tells us. That, as he is lifted up, the reach of Jesus’ blessing broadens, widening in scope from the disciples, to Jerusalem, and eventually, to the corners of the earth. It is an image that depicts the ever-growing expansiveness of love, covering “all that is” so that God might fill all things, even as God is above all things, to paraphrase St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

Following the Ascension, the book of Acts tells us, the disciples returned to Jerusalem, to that secret room they had occupied, in order to devote themselves to prayer. Peter, James, and John; Andrew, Philip, and Thomas; Bartholomew, Matthew, and James; Simon, Jude, and Mary, all come together to pray out what this blessing might mean in their context and in light of Jesus’ example and teaching.

Aside from the momentary loss, then, the two accounts of the Ascension described a worshipful and prayerful people, who are coming to realize the breadth and depth of God’s saving love. The Ascension, in a very concrete sense, puts into motion the beginnings of the Church: a group of faithful people working together in the absence of the One who brought them together in the first place.  Here, in the wake of Jesus’ ascension, we glimpse those first disciples worshiping, praying, and no doubt, seeking what the Lord would have them to do in community with one another.

As those gathered together in Jesus’s name, might we receive the mystery and richness of the Ascension afresh this day. Might we, by faith, witness our own ascending, as we see the Lord disappear from view. But might we then cast our gaze from the heavens to the world around us, cognizant of Christ’s blessing that covers and fills all, as we continue to work for the building up of the Church. 

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