“Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51).
Today makes it forty days since the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and on this day, Jesus ascended into heaven. In the Scriptures, the number ‘forty’ represents wholeness, preparation and cleansing. For instance, it rained forty days and forty nights when Noah built the Ark. The Israelites spent forty years journeying to the Promised Land. Jesus spent forty day and nights in the wilderness fasting just to mention a few.
By ascending after forty days, Jesus was passing on a deep message to us: My work in the flesh is now complete; prepare to receive the Holy Spirit. “It is not for you to know the times or seasons… But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witnesses” (Acts 1:7-8).
Like these disciples gazing at the heaven, we too may be gazing and wondering why Jesus would ascend into heaven. “Wouldn’t it have been nice if Jesus remained appearing and disappearing to us every now and then?” This question would be valid only if it can ever be established that Jesus is no longer with us today. Have we forgotten that Jesus said: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
Jesus is still with us. Jesus can never abandon us for we are His bride. He remains the Vine while we are just the branches. So was the ascension just a show? Not at all. Jesus really ascended into heaven and as St. Paul teaches us in today’s second reading, Christ has united humanity with God. It was necessary that Jesus entered heaven with our human flesh and by so doing redeem human nature.
By going up to heaven, Jesus did not create a distance between Himself and us, rather to point our attention to heaven which is our final destination. As Jesus ascended to heaven, so must our thoughts constantly ascend to Heaven. As St. Paul would say: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).
When an aged parent knows that death is fast approaching, he or she would gather their children to leave them with some last words. In the Ascension, we celebrate the last words of Jesus: “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 lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). We must cherish these last words of Jesus; they define our faith.
As we heard Jesus say, though He ascended, He remains with us always – and to the close of the age. How? Where two or more are gathered in His name, Jesus is there. In the Holy Eucharist, Jesus is there. In every mass, Jesus is present as the Priest, the Altar and the Lamb of Sacrifice. In the poor and lonely, Jesus is present – “whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do unto me.”
Soon after the Ascension, the disciples entered a mood of prayer in expectation of the promise of the Holy Spirit. Like these disciples, we too must begin to pray more that we may be found worthy of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray: Come Holy Spirit, fill my heart and kindle your fire within me. Amen. Bible Study: Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 47, Ephesians 1:17-23 and Matthew 28:16-20).
Your Sorrow Will Turn Into Joy.
“When a woman is in travail she has sorrow because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for the joy that a child is born into the world.” (John 16:21)
Our short time on earth is like the nine-month period of carrying a pregnancy. It always tough for any woman but the joy of eventually carrying her child relieves all the pain. The joy of joining in the heavenly banquet after our short time on earth will be so much that would forget whatever pain we have to go through for the sake of God at this moment.
Surely, there would be some moments of joy right here on earth. Being a Christian is not a condemnation to pain. Even Jesus had his moments of joy. For instance, when the seventy returned after accomplishing the work of mission, Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit. (Luke 10:20). As St. Paul would say to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4).
For a whole year and six months, Paul went about the city of Corinth preaching the Good News of salvation freely. God told him in a vision: “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no man shall attack you to harm you.” But this time was limited.
Happiness on earth is always limited. Let’s face it, no matter how hard we try, we cannot really rejoice “always.” Certain events will definitely make us cry. And again, there is no amount of joy we experience now that can equal even a little bit of the joy we shall have in heaven.
As Jesus puts it: “So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me.” (John 16:22-23). In other words, as long as we live on earth, happiness remains fleeting but when that day comes – the day we shall be united to God; no one will be able to take our joy from us. Let us pray: Lord Jesus, fill me with holy joy. Amen. Bible Study: Acts 18:9-18, Psalm 47 and John 16:20-23).