Feast of Christian responsibility

Al Cariño
Ascension Sunday
June 1, 2003
Reproduced with Permission

All the four evangelists consider the Easter-event as the most important event that has taken place in all of human history -- past, present and future. But Mark, Matthew and Luke treated its three aspects -- the Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost -- separately in order to highlight the significance of each event in the life of the early Church and in our faith-life. For this reason, they situate the Ascension 40 days after the Resurrection and the Descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) nine days after the Ascension.

Not so John. He treated the Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost as three aspects of the one Easter-event. Viewed thus, the Ascension is not a sad departure ceremony with Jesus leaving the disciples behind and alone. Rather, it is a joyful celebration of Jesus' exaltation at the right hand of the Father after His Resurrection from the dead.

Let us now take a closer look at the Ascension-event (Acts 1:1-11). Luke tells us that after Jesus gave His final message to His disciples and with all of them looking on, "He was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight."

The cloud mentioned here is no ordinary cloud. In the Old Testament, it is a sign not only of God's closeness to His people but also of His presence. Thus the phrase "the cloud took him from their sight" signifies that it is the Father who is at work in the Ascension of Jesus. St. Paul elaborates on this when he tells us in the second reading (Eph. 1:17-23) that the Father has "seated him at his right hand in heaven." The phrase is a Hebrew idiom for "sharing power with God." Paul makes this reality even more explicit when he adds that the Father "put all things beneath his feet" (Eph 1:22), that is, made Jesus Lord of heaven and earth.

After Jesus had vanished from the sight of His disciples, the angels told them, "Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?" In effect, the angels were telling them that instead of just staring at the sky doing nothing, they were to do as Jesus had instructed them -- to go to Jerusalem and "wait for the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak." Jesus was referring to the gift of His Spirit whom they would receive a few days later.

With this, we must realize that even if Jesus is no longer physically present among us just as He was no longer present with His disciples after His Ascension, He has not abandoned us. With the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost -- Jesus' own Spirit -- He is and will always be present among us.

Moreover, being seated on the right hand of God and with everything placed at His disposal by the Father, Jesus is now in the best position to continue His saving work in and among us. After all the Father has placed everything at His disposal.

Finally, since His Spirit is now with us and in the world, we live not only with hope but also with strength. Thus we must stand confident that with Him we can live according to the teachings and deeds of Jesus and build His Kingdom on earth.

What is the significance of all the preceding to our faith-life? Both as individuals and as members of the community of believers, we are tasked with what He had commissioned the apostles to do: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." (Mk. 16:15-16.) In short, we must use our light of faith to overcome darkness and not hide it under a bushel basket.

The Ascension of Jesus has thus imposed a great responsibility on us as individuals and as members of a community. Jesus wants us to carry on from where He left off. If His Ascension was a mission-sending for His disciples, it is also for us. He does not only want us to be His witnesses through our words and deeds but also to proclaim the Good News to others, "to all creation," so that they too will accept the "good news" and find their happiness in God and in the things of God.

A great task indeed. But for most of us, we do not have to go far in carrying this out. We can start right where God has placed us -- in our home, our school, our work-place, our parish, the wider community, etc. And Jesus will always be with us in His Spirit as we carry out our divinely appointed tasks.

On the occasion of this wonderful feast then, let us thank God that Jesus, though now seated at His right hand, is also present among us through His Spirit and thus is able to help us live in the way He wants us to live. Finally, let us ask Jesus, Lord of heaven and earth, to give us the courage and strength to make known His message to one and all so that they too will be gifted with the faith that saves.