May 24: Ascension Sunday. Readings: 1. Acts 1:1-11; Psalm: 47; 2. Ephesians 1:17-23; Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20.
As we celebrate the Ascension, the readings evoke a real appreciation for the gift of faith and the dynamic force that gripped the early Church. They highlight all its efforts to spread the Good News and develop its presence wherever new communities could be established.
On this feast day, Acts recalls the Holy Spirit’s role in the beginning. The description of the moment preceding the Lord’s ascension into heaven primes us to understand the Spirit’s work. And the power associated with this moment is key to the mission Jesus initiated and intended his close followers to undertake even to the ends of the earth.
The text from Ephesians is an extraordinary one when we recognise that it brings together many similar words that throw light on the divine power present in the Church through the actions of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This mix emphasises the nature of what we belong to. For central to the passage is a variety of power-related expressions. In English, we can best understand their combined impact if we think of words like endless activity, energy, authority, strength, might and ruling power. This intense focus captures how immensely empowered members of the Church are.
Today’s verses from Matthew are the grand conclusion to his Gospel, the Lord’s parting instructions to the apostles. They are authorised to continue making his commandments known everywhere. And in doing so they honour the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This commission is one of great responsibility, but as the final words declare, the Lord’s disciples will never be alone, for he will always be by their side.
Hearing these texts must surely give us courage. For in them there is the divine promise of that powerful presence that emboldens us to profess the faith unhesitatingly.
First reading: Acts 1:1-11.
In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the Kingdom of God. While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit”.
When they had gathered together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
Second reading: Ephesians 1:17-23.
[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 what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.
Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20.
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”