WORD MADE FLESH
Ascension — June 5, 2011
Acts 1.1-11 | Psalm 47 | Ephesians 1.17-23 | Matthew 28.16-20
May 30, 2011
Truth will out! And few better places for such an admission than in the text of an essay on the readings for Sunday Mass, you might say. Not a great truth though — merely an acknowledgement of a temptation to write a most trite introduction, "The feast of Ascension commemorates one of the most remarkable events in the life of Jesus."
Whatever forcefulness such a sentence might have had vanishes with the realization that in the biography of Jesus we have a life story filled with "most remarkable" events: His birth, a body of sublime teachings of love, hope and forgiveness, miraculous cures, wretched torture and execution, resurrection from the dead and astonishing appearances to his disciples.
The liturgy focuses our attention on the place of the Ascension in our belief. The Apostles' Creed which we declare ensemble early in every Mass, acknowledges its significance: "He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father."
I draw a certain comfort in the knowledge that worshippers in many diverse Christian communities such as the Lutheran, Anglican and United Church of Canada make the same declaration of belief in the same words of the Creed.
Just in passing, while meditating, reading and seeking to deepen my understanding of the Ascension, I happened on an item with regard to the Apostles' Creed that wants sharing: until the Middle Ages people believed that the Apostles created the Creed on Pentecost, "while still under the direct inspiration of the Holy Ghost," each of them contributing one of the 12 articles.
Though later critical study assigned a legendary status to this story, it keeps its charm and I like it.
After all that has happened in the 40 days since Easter, Jesus' disciples witnessed yet another startling event as he ascends on a cloud, "out of their sight" as the First Reading for today describes it.
MESSAGE OF HOPE
We recognize this as his final act of redemption, his sealing message of hope - his bodily ascension in his human form into heaven. It reminds us of the purpose of our own creation, that of happiness in eternal life.
But did he leave the apostles? Did he leave us? Or better question: what did he leave us? In his parting words as recorded in today's First Reading, he assures the apostles of the power of the Holy Spirit and its reach through them to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.
As for ourselves, we too know of the Holy Spirit and we have Jesus in his Eucharistic presence. Furthermore, he left the apostles and us the immediate, persisting and all affecting gift of hope.
The celebration of the Ascension of Our Lord has made a concession to the ways of the world. The Ascension occurred 40 days after Easter which necessarily means a Thursday, and from which developed the familiar identification of "Ascension Thursday."
In our own quaint Canadian way we celebrate Ascension Thursday on Sunday.
(Ralph Himsl: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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