Ascension – May 20, 2012 – Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
In his resurrection, Jesus is no mere spirit, for Jesus is tangible. When
the disciples have barricaded themselves in the upper room, when they
lock the door, Jesus stands among them and greets them. “Peace,” Jesus
says. The people start, and they fear. [You and I would be afraid if Jesus
stood in the middle isle saying “Peace”!] They are not seeing a ghost.
“Look at my hands and my feet; it’s me! Touch me and see, because a
ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see that I have.”
Incredulity, then joy and then amazement—these emotions chase each
other in the people. “Have you anything to eat?” They give him a piece
of baked fish; he takes it and eats while they look on. (Luke 24:36-43)
The resurrected Jesus is no mere spirit. The resurrection appearances are
not visions from heaven. These appearances happen here, on earth,
among people. Now with the Ascension, however, Jesus’ life on earth
comes to a definitive close.
Jesus is born when “a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the
whole world should be enrolled. And Joseph too went up from Galilee
from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David, to be enrolled
with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And she gave birth to her
firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a
manger (Luke 2:1-7). His birth among humans begins in this way. With
the Ascension, Jesus’ visible life among us humans ends.
When does the Ascension occur? After His life among us, after His
suffering and crucifixion, after the resurrection, Jesus repeatedly appears
to the disciples. Thus Jesus first came to the disciples in the upper room
in Jerusalem. That same resurrection day, Jesus appears to two disciples
walking to the village of Emmaus. And on that same day Jesus appears
to Mary Magdalene, and then to Peter. A week later, Jesus appears to the
Apostles when the doubting Thomas is present. Later Jesus appears at
the Sea of Galilee, then to nearly five hundred together. At the end of
forty days, after many post-resurrection appearances, it is time for Jesus’
At what spot did Jesus rise up and ascend? Jesus leads the band of
Apostles out from the upper room, along the Jerusalem streets, out the
city gate, across the Kidron valley, past the Garden of Olives, toward the
village of Bethany, to a height called a mountain (Luke 24:50). This
would be about three-fourths of a mile (Acts 1:12).
Who witnesses this happening? Those present are Peter, John, James
and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James the
son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. Women are
present, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers (Acts 1:13-14).
What does Jesus say to these people at the Ascension? Jesus tells them:
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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. Teach them to observe all
that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20). The life and the
teaching of Jesus the Christ is for all people from Jerusalem to Judea and
to Samaria and to the ends of the earth, to every creature (Acts1:7; Mark
16:15). Jews and Gentiles will know Jesus.
Jesus also promises these witnesses: “And behold, I am with you always,
until the end of the age” (Matthew28:20). We have previously heard that
Jesus will be present wherever two or three gather in His name
(Matthew 18:20). Now the risen Jesus will abide among all Christians.
The spirit of the risen Lord will guide and protect the Church until God’s
kingdom comes in its fullness.
And Jesus instructs His people at the Ascension. He tells them this.
“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised,
which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with
water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy
Spirit….You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on
you; and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:4-8).
The Holy Spirit will enable these Apostles to witness effectively to the
sayings and doings of Jesus. The Spirit will invigorate this community’s
testifying that Jesus has dwelled among us and has spoken to us.
What happens at this moment? Jesus “raises his hands, and blesses
them” (Luke 14:50). The blessing might be like this priestly blessing
Bless the God of all,
Who has done wondrous things on earth….
May God grant you joy of heart,
And may peace abide among you;
May his goodness toward us endure in Israel
As long as the heavens are above (Sirach 50:22-24).
“And as Jesus was blessing them, he withdrew from them” (Luke
24:51). “And a cloud hid him from their sight” (Acts 1:9). We are
reminded that when Jesus underwent interrogation by the Sanhedrin, He
said, “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power
and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). Christ’s going
reminds us that during Mass we expect the second coming of our Lord:
“until he comes again.”
Jesus ascends into heaven, yet this Lord promises to remain with his
Church. The Lord remains with us individually, such as in the Eucharist.
Jesus remains with His Church as in scripture, and as in Mass. Amen.