From Ascension to Pentecost the passage of a lifetime

Tom Bartolomeo
Ascension of the Lord A 2014
Acts 1: 1-11 Psalm 47
Ephesians 1: 17-23 Matthew 28: 1
Reproduced with Permission

He was the same Jesus whom the Apostles knew before. His demeanor had changed or, rather, the Apostles' attitudes had changed after Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus' meetings with his Apostles are now spontaneous. Jesus appears without warning passing through doors or preparing them breakfast at dawn on the shore of Lake Tiberius after their unlucky night of fishing. They quietly listen to Jesus as he feeds them. Jesus asks Peter three times, "Do you love me" and Jesus says, "feed my sheep" three times. (John 21: 4-19). Jesus feeds them and he asks that they feed his other disciples. Sitting there in the early light of a new day they are still taking in the man they see before them who rose from the dead and carries the wounds of his suffering with him. Jesus had told them that he would go and return "in a little while" but that seemed a long time ago when they were together at their last supper.

Jesus told them then he was going to prepare a place for them. Where will that be? Will we be there with him? From time to time they meet in Jerusalem while waiting for the "Advocate" Jesus had promised. When will that be, they were not told. Things 'seemed the same' as before but for their uncertainties about the future. They knew things were changing. Then one day as Jesus instructs them they met on a mountain and Jesus tells them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28: 17-20). The future had come. Their future had come. The Acts of the Apostles describes the event: Jesus tells them "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth." Jesus then ascends "as they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, and suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them and say, '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'." (Acts 1: 8-11).

They realize that Jesus is not abandoning them. He will be with them again. He keeps all his promises. In ten days their uncertainties completely evaporate on Pentecost when the Advocate Jesus promised arrives and empowers them. Becoming many Jesus' themselves they add many converts to their number, three thousand on Pentecost day itself. They are no longer waiting for instructions from Jesus and set about "making disciples of all nations." When told by 'messengers in white' that Jesus will return they no longer wonder whether it will be "a "little while" or a longer. At Pentecost the Spirit of Christ drives them to the work Jesus gave them to do. The Apostles' transformation is nothing short of miraculous. The nemesis of fear is lifted from their shoulders. Since Jesus' death and ascension they obviously know Jesus rose from the dead although none of them actually saw Jesus' rise, but they all see him ascend into heaven. Everything else is incidental. Everything else we read in the Gospel and the Acts is incidental to Jesus' resurrection and ascension. We surmise Jesus coming to life much like Lazarus except Jesus unwraps his burial cloths on his own, first the cloth around his head which he neatly lays down on his burial bed of stone. Jesus leaves behind death, his burial garments and the darkness of the tomb. He steps into the bright light of morning and sees the world more clearly if that were possible, but the world for some still does not see Jesus. Even his favorite disciple, Mary Madeline, who is the first to see the risen Jesus does not recognize him but sees who she thinks is the gardener and she asks, "if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him" and Jesus calls her by name, "Mary", and she recognizes him. (John 20: 14-16).

"Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!", Christians sing, "The strife is o'er, the battle done; Now is the victor's triumph won: O let the song of praise be sung. Alleluia!"

Jesus' ascension into heaven, body, soul and divinity, forecasts mankind's triumph over death. Jesus' Apostles and many others believe they are the adopted children of God and Jesus' brothers and sisters. The "men in white garments" speak to everyone, "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'." (Acts 1: 8-11). Unlike Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead Lazarus will die again in order to rise and ascend into heaven where Jesus is. Where Jesus is God and heaven is. Not only does Christ put to death death itself with his resurrection and ascension into eternal rest, peace and joy, but Jesus puts to death fear and the fear of death for his Apostles and disciples. Later reflecting on their time together John writes in a letter to his flock, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. . . We love because he first loved us". (1 John 4: 18-19). Their new found fearlessness makes them true prophets and teachers as is Jesus. They give Jesus' adversaries pause as Jesus did, these twelve apostles sent by Jesus into the world to make disciples of all nations. The entrenched rulers of Jerusalem find that they have more to fear from twelve energized Apostles than one Jesus.

Jesus, again, as he promises does not leave them orphans. (cf. John 14: 12-22). They understand and practice what Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, teaches his fold, "Be imitators of me as I am of Christ." Many follow Jesus' way and adopt his life as their own. The Apostles reap the harvest which Jesus has labored at and John the Baptist and the other prophets before him back to the time of Noah and Abraham. The Spirit of Christ, the Advocate Jesus sends to the Apostles, reminds them of the work Jesus has begun and has sent them to complete. They recall the 'mighty works' Jesus did while he was with them which were later recounted in the gospels and their letters. The Apostle John recalls the story of their stop-over in a Samaritan town on their way home from Jerusalem where the Apostles go to buy food for their journey while Jesus waits at the town well "talking with a woman" and "the woman left her water jar and went into town and said to the people, 'Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?' They went out of 2 the town and were coming to him" while the Apostles were returning to Jesus at the well. (John 4: 27-30). "Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, 'Rabbi, eat'," when Jesus said, 'My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, then comes the harvest'?

Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor." (Ibid. 31-38). Jesus then sees the townspeople approaching him and follows them into the town where the Apostles had just left. The Apostle John writes in his gospel this account of Jesus' labor that "Many Samaritans from that town believed in him . . . . They asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, 'It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world'." (Ibid. 39-42). After Pentecost the Apostles set about their work for the Lord. The disciple Philip alive in the Spirit of Christ returns "to the city of Samaria and also proclaims to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did". (Acts 8: 5-8). Many other Acts of the Apostles are recorded in the book by the same name, a book often referred to as the Gospel of the Holy Spirit whose work continues in the world.