May 29, 2014 - The ASCENSION:

ACTS 1:-11 ; EPHESIANS 1:17-23 ; MATTHEW 28: 16-20

"I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD."  These are the last words spoken by Jesus to his chosen apostles.  They are a final and reassuring promise that held so much significance for the early church that, in order to give them due prominence, St. Matthew makes them the end of his Gospel.  Our Lord speaks these consoling words to those disciples who firmly believed he was the risen one whom they had known in the days of his flesh.  We know from St. Luke's account at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles that this solemn promise to remain present to his followers is meant for the whole Church, not just those present at the time they were spoken.  Not long after he gave this assurance, he appeared to Stephen to strengthen him in his witness.  Shortly after that he appeared to Saul, rebuking him sharply, and converting him by the event.  These demonstrations of the Lord's continuing presence to his faithful serve to give reassurance to us that we can count on the glorified Lord's care as we strive to serve him in obedience to his word.

Matthew makes no explicit mention of the Ascension any place in his Gospel, though it is implied by this final promise of the risen Lord.  Jesus is in a condition that allows him to keep his promise to remain with his faithful followers on earth because he has returned to his heavenly Father.  There he lives in the transformed condition of his glorified state, possessing the divine power he shares fully with God the Father.  While Matthew provides no details concerning the historical departure of Christ from this earth, Luke, on the other hand, describes the event in some detail as he ends his Gospel.  Interestingly, he does not use the term "ascended"; rather, he writes that "he (Jesus) was lifted up into heaven."   The power of the Father is the active force that brings about the return of the beloved Son to the presence of the One at whose will he had accepted his dreaded passion and death. This ascension took place, he informs us, as his disciples reverently looked on.  He ends his narrative with the final statement of his Gospel that his disciples "returned in adoration to Jerusalem with great joy and were constantly in the temple praising and glorifying God."  In the event, Jesus' physical departure was a source of joy not of sadness, for they realized that far from abandoning his faithful, their Lord extended his loving care for us from the throne of power and glory.

Some years after, as we heard in the first reading today, Luke took up his pen again to tell the story of the spread of the early Church.  In the opening sentences he makes two references to the ascension, showing how it terminated his post-resurrection appearances and was accompanied by another promise, namely, that he would send the Holy Spirit to them shortly.   This divine Gift would, as it were, continue his own active presence to them, so intimate is the bond uniting him with this Spirit.

Rightly to appreciate this feast of our Lord's Ascension we do well to consider it in its intimate relations with the resurrection that preceded it and the gift of the Holy Spirit that follows upon it.  The Paschal Mystery is comprised by these three distinct yet integrally bonded events. Each belongs essentially to the world of eternity while being manifested to us in our world of time.   By their manifestation as happenings in history the resurrection and the ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit result in a revelation to us that we have direct and immediate access through our trusting faith, even now in this world of time, to that eternal world where God is all in all.

At this altar today as we commemorate the Ascension of the risen Savior, taken up in the Spirit of God, we celebrate with heart-felt gratitude these transcendent mysteries that reveal our own destiny.  May all of us here renew our faith in his promise, confident that Jesus ascended into heaven. He does not remain inactive on our behalf; rather, as he explained to his followers: "I go to prepare a place for you." He reminds us by these words at this renewal of his Paschal mystery that, because he has returned to the Father, he has a mansion readied for us to share, if only we put our faith in him to the end.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger