The Ascension of the Lord, Cycle A, by Fr. Claude Perera

First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11
Lucan Account of the Ascension of Jesus in the Acts of the Apostles

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 47:2-3,6-9
Sing praises to God Who Has Gone up.

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:17-23
God Raised Jesus up from the Death and Made Him him at His Right Hand.

Gospel Reading: Matthew 28:16-20
Matthean Great Commission to the Disciple

Background on the Gospel Reading

We heard of the vivid and picturesque account of the ascension of Jesus in the first reading of today from the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts, it was explicitly stated how Jesus ascended. But the ending of Matthew’s gospel which was read today did not speak of the ascension. What we were told was that Jesus only met them on a mountain where he gave them the great commission. Matthew’s gospel ended there.

The fact that the pre-supposed ascension took place on a mountain has a special significance in Matthew. Mountains or high places had a definite place in the Semitic mentality. Because of their high elevation, they associated such heights jutting out into the sky with the closeness of God. For them, the divine abode was in the highest heavens beyond the firmament. They thought that God who was closer to the mountain top reveals himself on mountains. In fact, one of the names of God was El Shaddai which may have several meanings, one of which is ‘God of the Mountain,’ the Bibles speaks of mountains and hills more than 500 times.

The mountains of Sinai and Zion are most significant in the OT. Most important events occur on mountaintops. It was Mount Sinai where Moses received the law, the Ten Commandments. Mount Zion in Jerusalem was where they built the temple which was associated with the presence of God. Matthew used this mountain motif in his Gospel seven times. The third temptation takes place on a high mountain (4:7). Jesus preached the Charter of His Kingdom on a mountain. That is why it is called the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7). He prayed to His Father on a mountain (Mt 8:1). He preached, healed, and fed people from a mountain (Mt 19:29f.). He was transfigured on a mountain (Mt 17:1, 9, 20). Golgotha, the place of the crucifixion may have been an elevated place (Mt 27:33).

The mountain of the ascension is reckoned to be Mount Olives, frequently associated with Jesus in the NT. That is where Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Mt 23:37-39). He was preaching and prophesying from there (Mt 24-25). After the last supper Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane situated there with his disciples to be agonized (Mt 26:30). Finally, as in today’s gospel his final commission and the farewell takes place on this Mount of Olives. Jesus left for his destination, namely, the bosom of His Father from this mountaintop an elevated destination associated with closeness to God. Much more than the mountains, what is important is the person who stood there, Jesus, the supreme symbol of God in whom the godhead met humanity.

This Jesus, the Son of God descended from the Father and ascended back to him. The words ‘ascend,’ ‘descend,’ ‘condescend,’ and ‘transcend’ are etymologically related to Latin scandere meaning, ‘climb.’ Climbing can be up, down, or beyond. Jesus descended or climbed down in order that we too may live like him promoting humanity through love and compassion, and one one day like him to reach heaven, our destination. We will not ascend in the way Jesus did. We are in a process of ascending right through our lives. How do we do that? We do that by transcending the earthy, material, and worldly existence and realized the divine image within us. We do not belong to the earth. Earth is only a temporary lodge or a tent which will be folded up at death. Our true home is heaven. Descending and ascending like Jesus give us a model to be followed. In today’s liturgy the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer says, “He ascended, not to distance himself from our lowly state but that we, his members, might be confident of following where he, our Head and Founder, has gone.” So, the ascension gives us the direction where we ourselves ought to reach one day. Are we ready for it? Do our thoughts, words and deeds, the entirety of our lives show that we are heaven-bound. But the reality we see most of the time is that we are so earth-bound that we can never leave this earth. When we must leave the earth, we are overcome with fear and sorrow that it becomes a bitter experience. Theologians say that that death is the most beautiful moment in life when we meet Christ fully for the first time and awaken ourselves to full consciousness and freedom. At the time of death, the humans can make the definitive fundamental option for or against their eternal salvation. Death is our moment of ascending to the Father. That journey needs to be well prepared in terms of a God-fearing life. Life has got to be a series of transcending of oneself, the desires, the flesh, and the world.

Lastly, before ascending to His Father, Jesus gives a great commission to his disciples to make all nations followers of Jesus. In this secularized world, most people may not have an opportunity to hear about Jesus, let alone preach or speak. We need not announce Jesus by the word of mouth, but we can always proclaim His values and convictions through our attitudes and actions that are truly Christian. Let our lives be a live proclamation of Jesus which will attract non-believers to Him.

Happy Feast of the Ascension!!!