MAY 14, 2015 - THE ASCENSION OF OUR LORD
ACTS 1:1-11 .EPH 1: 17-23; MARK 16:1-20
Mark ends his account of the Gospel with the statement that our Lord worked from heaven with those whom he sent to preach the Gospel. In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke makes it evident that Jesus, though abiding in the presence of his 'Father, yet remains mysteriously present within his faithful followers. As he was seeking to imprison Christ's followers, the future apostle heard a voice from heaven accuse him. "Paul, Pau, Paul, why do you persecute me?" Christ is more widely present in this world now, after his Ascension to the Father than he was when living among people in the flesh.
This Feast of the Ascension has vastly broader significance than immediately appears. By Ascending to the right hand of the Father, Christ becomes active wherever and whenever he sees fit to intervene in human affairs. He is accessible in a surpassing measure to those who trustingly call upon him. Further, he intervenes in the events of this world when he chooses, in order to realize the Father's plan. The way he so abruptly challenged Paul at his attempted attack Christians in Damascus is one of the most impressive instances of his intervention without the request of the one directly concerned. Surely, though, he was responding to the prayers of the faithful who were being persecuted, and beseeching God for deliverance.
Saint Paul subsequently cultivated a strong faith based on this initial experience that the Lord Jesus, having ascended into heaven, remains present and involved with his faithful in the Church. He came to this conviction after intense reflection on his original encounter with Jesus and the few words the Lord spoke to him. He realized that Christ so identified himself with his faithful that it was Christ himself whom Paul was harming when he imprisoned his followers. Later, after reflection on his conversion experience and our Lord's words to him at the time, Paul became firmly convinced that the Lord lives in each of his true followers. Later, while a prisoner himself, Paul wrote to the Colossians that "God has revealed the riches of His glory in this mystery of the gentiles which Is Christ in you, the hope of glory."
At the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke tells us that Jesus' final words to his disciples were in the form of reassurance that they would not be deserted. He encouraged them with the statement that "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses." Later Saint Paul was to provide further basis for ongoing trust and faith when he appointed Timothy and other ministers to carry on the same commission Jesus had earlier given to his disciples. The early Church firmly trusted that its bishops could pass on the sacrament of the priesthood, thus assuring the continuous presence of the Lord in the Eucharist.
In the second reading today Saint Paul writes some impressive statements in the form of prayers addressed to all members of the Church. "May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of Him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened that you may know the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches on his glory in his inheritance among the holy ones." And may this Eucharistic celebration strengthen each of us as we strive to realize this hope in our own lives.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger