Thoughts on The Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ

When Jesus ascended into heaven he took with him the very humanity which he had redeemed.

With the Lord’s Ascension back to the Father in heaven, we find the completion of Jesus’ earthly mission, that is, our redemption is accomplished. In his Passion and death on the cross, he defeated death. In his Resurrection, he revealed to us the life that is to come for those who keep his commandments. His Ascension, in the words of Pope John Paul II, “indicates the goal to which personal and universal history is hastening,” that is, heavenly glory. Just as those gathered gazed fixedly on him as he ascended, so our gaze should be fixed on his glory even as we struggle in and through the trials of our daily lives.

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As a matter of historical fact, Jesus had appeared to many people after his Resurrection. All four Gospel writers gave accounts of these various appearances, some with more detail than others. In these post-Resurrection appearances we see, too, Jesus’ final commission to the Apostles, and to us. In Matthew’s account, Jesus tells them, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt. 28:19-20). Mark puts it this way, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15).

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We can imagine the sense of overwhelming awe that the Apostle and disciples must have felt at the moment when they witnessed together, with their own eyes, Jesus being lifted up into the sky. These men and women had witnessed yet another wonder as yet beyond their ability to understand completely. But they had been primed by Jesus earlier when he explained to them that he had to go away from them so that he could send the Advocate to them: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth, he will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming” (Jn 16:12-13). This promise of the Holy Spirit is essential to our faith. Luke tells us, “John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5).

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The disciples still did not completely understand these marvelous post-Resurrection experiences they were witnessing, and not unlike us today sometimes, they were full of practical, worldly questions. “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?” (v.6) Jesus, recognizing their wonder, responds with, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. 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” (v. 6-8).

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It was at that moment, as the disciples looked on, that Jesus “was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight” (v.9). They would not understand the full meaning of this event until the Holy Spirit would come upon them at Pentecost. But when Jesus ascended into heaven he took with him into glory the very humanity which he had assumed and redeemed. With his Ascension, he made it clear that we, too, will rise with him in our full humanity, not just our souls, but our bodies, too. Just as he rose with his body, we will rise with ours and be taken up into heaven where we will be in the Presence of God praising him in joyful thanks for eternity. Amen.

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