The Gospel for May 8th, 2016: Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
The Lukan gospel ends with Jesus’s ascension to Heaven: “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God” (50-53).
With the ascension, Jesus departs from His followers dramatically once for a second time. The first time was with His death by crucifixion on the cross. Notice the difference in their reactions. His death brought sorrow and tears; His ascension brought great joy. So why the joy instead of sorrow?
One could argue the ascension lacked the horrifying spectacle of gore and suffering. This probably was a factor. However, the absence of those alone would not necessarily lead to joy, for He was still gone. Another argument could be made that He assured them of their place with Him in Heaven and promised to send the Holy Spirit to them before He left. Still, didn’t He assure them of their salvation before He died as well? He told them, “[T]hey will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” (Luke 21: 27-28). Why didn’t they believe Him then and maintain their faith after His death?
I think the difference is the resurrection. Jesus’s rising from the dead proved to them He was indeed the Messiah and that His words were the truth. Never again would they have doubt simply because He did not appear to be physically in their presence. On this feast of the ascension, their joy can be our joy. We too know he rose from the dead to bring us everlasting life. Furthermore, we know He sent the Holy Spirit as promised which marked the beginning of His Church. Lastly, we know He is with us, even if we cannot see Him. In fact, the more we suffer, the closer He is, if we only open our humbled hearts and believe. So may we walk with joy back to the Jerusalem of our homes. May we praise God in all the temples of our lives. On this holy occasion, let us trust in His word, as the apostles did at Bethany, so that the joy of His unseen presence may fill our hearts.