Sunday of the Ascension

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Sunday of Ascension
Memorial of Saint Paul VI (+1978), pope.


First Reading

Acts 1,1-11

In my earlier work, Theophilus, I dealt with everything Jesus had done and taught from the beginning until the day he gave his instructions to the apostles he had chosen through the Holy Spirit, and was taken up to heaven. He had shown himself alive to them after his Passion by many demonstrations: for forty days he had continued to appear to them and tell them about the kingdom of God. While at table with them, he had told them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for what the Father had promised. 'It is', he had said, 'what you have heard me speak about: John baptised with water but, not many days from now, you are going to be baptised with the Holy Spirit.' Now having met together, they asked him, 'Lord, has the time come for you to restore the kingdom to Israel?' He replied, 'It is not for you to know times or dates that the Father has decided by his own authority, but you will receive the power of the Holy Spirit which will come on you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to earth's remotest end.' As he said this he was lifted up while they looked on, and a cloud took him from their sight. They were still staring into the sky as he went, when suddenly two men in white were standing beside them, and they said, 'Why are you Galileans standing here looking into the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way as you have seen him go to heaven.'

Psalmody

Psalm 46

Antiphon

Shout to God with the voice of joy.

All peoples, clap your hands,
cry to God with shouts of joy!

For the Lord, the Most High, we must fear,
great king over all the earth.

He subdues peoples under us
and nations under our feet.

Our inheritance, our glory, is from him,
given to Jacob out of love.

God goes up with shouts of joy;
the Lord goes up with trumpet blast.

Sing praise for God, sing praise,
sing praise to our king, sing praise.

God is king of all the earth,
Sing praise with all your skill.

God is king over the nations;
God reigns on his holy throne.

The princes of the peoples are assembled
with the people of Abraham's God.

The rulers of the earth belong to God,
to God who reigns over all.

Second Reading

Hebrews 9,24-28; 10,19-23

It is not as though Christ had entered a man-made sanctuary which was merely a model of the real one; he entered heaven itself, so that he now appears in the presence of God on our behalf. And he does not have to offer himself again and again, as the high priest goes into the sanctuary year after year with the blood that is not his own, or else he would have had to suffer over and over again since the world began. As it is, he has made his appearance once and for all, at the end of the last age, to do away with sin by sacrificing himself. Since human beings die only once, after which comes judgement, so Christ too, having offered himself only once to bear the sin of many, will manifest himself a second time, sin being no more, to those who are waiting for him, to bring them salvation. We have then, brothers, complete confidence through the blood of Jesus in entering the sanctuary, by a new way which he has opened for us, a living opening through the curtain, that is to say, his flesh. And we have the high priest over all the sanctuary of God. So as we go in, let us be sincere in heart and filled with faith, our hearts sprinkled and free from any trace of bad conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us keep firm in the hope we profess, because the one who made the promise is trustworthy.

Reading of the Gospel

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Yesterday I was buried with Christ,
today I rise with you who are risen.
With you I was crucified;
remember me, Lord, in your kingdom.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Luke 24,46-53

and he said to them, 'So it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this. 'And now I am sending upon you what the Father has promised. Stay in the city, then, until you are clothed with the power from on high.' Then he took them out as far as the outskirts of Bethany, and raising his hands he blessed them. Now as he blessed them, he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven. They worshipped him and then went back to Jerusalem full of joy; and they were continually in the Temple praising God.

 

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Yesterday I was buried with Christ,
today I rise with you who are risen.
With you I was crucified;
remember me, Lord, in your kingdom.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Homily

"Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?" The liturgy of the Ascension celebrates a Christian mystery that all Churches share. It is part of the common profession of faith. Luke describes it in his Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles as a link not only between the two books but also between Easter and Pentecost. In Acts he writes that Jesus appeared to the disciples appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God." They were forty days of meeting and listening, so that the disciples could be involved in the Easter mystery. There is a parallel between Jesus' forty days in the wilderness immediately after his baptism in the Jordan to prepare for his public mission, and these other forty days after Easter that prepare the disciples for the public mission of communicating the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
Luke suggests that the disciples, on that day, as they sat at table with the Risen One, were aware that they were experiencing a special moment. And, hearing that Jesus was speaking of the coming of the Spirit, they ask him if at last "this is the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" It is an understandable question in the face of so many expectations of salvation.
Jesus answers those disciples: "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority." Jesus seems to suggest to them that life is much greater and more complex, and in any case it is not for us to know its times and periods! But he does not leave us alone in the darkness and uncertainty of a complex and sometimes adverse world. And he promises to send the Holy Spirit: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you." The same Spirit that Jesus received on the day of his Baptism in the Jordan, they too would receive in a few days' time, this time in the form of tongues of fire and not of a dove. And the Spirit would guide them through history to full victory over evil. While he is talking to them - we could say in the moment of listening, of prayer as in this liturgy - Jesus is "lifted up" to heaven. There is a beautiful statement in the Byzantine liturgy of the Ascension: "From heaven, he who loves to give, distributed gifts to his apostles, consoling them like a father, confirming them, guiding them like children and saying to them: I am with you and no one is against you."
There is a direction that is indicated. The angels address the eleven, calling them "Men of Galilee," men of the periphery, men of the street, as if uniting forever discipleship and the periphery, the Gospel and the poor. Yes, the mystery of Jesus' ascension into heaven means for us today that the risen Jesus goes before us in the many Galilees of this world, in the countless peripheries of this world.