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Readings for the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord, Cycle A

1. Acts 1, 1-11
  • It isn’t often that the other readings overshadow the Gospel passage of the day.  This is one of those times, and next week at Pentecost we will notice the same rare phenomenon.  All the more reason for me to prepare carefully and know how I intend to steer the reading.
  • Jesus presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he suffered.  There are several New Testament traditions about his appearances.  The one that begins Acts is the classical passage that I return to today.  The disciples are told to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of my Father. 
  • The gift of the Spirit to them takes center stage.  I hear it repeated three times: instructions through the Holy Spirit, baptized with the Holy Spirit, power from the Holy Spirit.  Something is about to change and they are being alerted.  Whatever is going to happen, the Holy Spirit will be at the center of it.  This is what Jesus wants them to remember, and he will not allow digressions about political strategy and other temporal concerns.  I can hear him saying: “What did I tell you?  Just in case someone is listening, this is what’s going to happen…”
  • The common thread of the reading is the transitional (by no means the final) lesson of Jesus.  He is giving instructions, enjoining and answering their questions.  I am impressed by the way Luke hints at the transition, through the multiple scenes of the appearances, the gatherings, and above all the going up and coming down of Jesus.  With my pauses I can clarify this 40-day period of intense coming to awareness for my listeners.
  • Toward the end we finally get to the Ascension: And he was lifted up.  So is the actual ascension of Jesus to God an afterthought today?  By no means: It is the closing of one stage of salvation history and the beginning of another: You will receive power.  It is a pivotal moment in the mystery of the church as well as in the exaltation of Jesus.
  • And it was pivotal for the disciples.  Once again they were looking at the sky, waiting for their teacher.  This is the ending that everyone here thinks they remember from their catechism, while they forget that it is a beginning.
  • Central point: Not Jesus alone but us with him.  Not the Messianic figure they expected but the one who is to come.  And we will be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.  That includes everyone I see in the assembly, by the way!
  • Message for our assembly: Why are you standing there looking?  The angel speaks to the wistful disciples, but could as easily be speaking to us with our minds wrapped up in mere dreams or appearances.  Here is the stranger assuring us again of simple truths.  Yes, Jesus will return in the same way.  My words are assuring today.
  • I will challenge myself: to return the focus to us.  This is a leave taking.  But it is also a beginning of a new dynamic.   I will make my reading a fitting beginning of the Book of Acts, so that all of will understand it as the beginning of a new age.

 

2. Ephesians 1, 17-23

  • Jesus is exalted and he is also with us in the church, his body, the fullness. 
  • Yes, I know that stories such as we have just heard are hard acts to follow.  Here we have an epistle with some very long sentences that have become more challenging to deliver in the literal form introduced in 1998.  So how do I make it memorable for my listeners?
  • As I listen closely I can hear echoes of the gifts of the Spirit.  Listen with me to the waves as they reach the shore: wisdom, revelation, knowledge, enlightenment of the heart.  That is how I will read, with the rhythm of the breaking surf. 
  • This is God’s great work and it continues in our time.  We believe that this is the reality of our lives, but it is evident only to those who believe.  So it is that the apostle talks about hope, inheritance, greatness of power for us who believe, exercise of might.  And I emphasize the faith, that God’s work will only be seen by the heart and in the presence of our faith.
  • And the greatest of the works?  You guessed it: he worked it in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand.  That is the climax of the reading.
  • The message for our assembly: The apostle recites the litany of names from the Who’s Who of the Universe.  But Christ, in whom we put our trust and base our life as church, is above all other names, all other authorities, all other claims to our worship and hope, in this age and in the one to come.
  • I will challenge myself: To upstage the first reading.

 

Matthew 28, 16-20

  • The elders among us remember this reading because it was delivered every Trinity Sunday in the pre-Vatican II days.  It represents another tradition than the one in Acts.  In this version the disciples meet the risen Christ in Galilee. 
  • Matthew brings them all back to the mountain.  The mountain of the beatitudes?  Maybe “all the above” mountains mentioned in his Gospel.  It is the most important image in the three readings today, and I will give it special prominence.
  • This reading is really an “apostolic mission from the mount.”  It is directed to the disciples but Jesus has us in mind.  My eye contact now will make that clear.
  • Where is the Holy Spirit here?  I don’t hear the name.  On the other hand I sense the presence when Jesus says All power has been given to me and I am with you always.  Gosh, what man can speak like that?  Would Jesus have spoken like that before his resurrection and exaltation to God?  How will I say it?  Like no man or echo of man, but like one who has conquered death and who comes to us from beyond.  “Do you know me now?  Then get going and make disciples.”
  • Climax: Make disciples of all nations.  We do not stand still, waiting for Jesus to do it all and keeping his Good News to ourselves.
  • Message for our assembly: Jesus will be with us always, without reservation.
  • I will challenge myself: to find the way the risen Christ would speak to his disciples to turn them into fearless apostles for his Good News.  Our church needs to hear that voice today.

Word to Communion: It is the frequent communion that sets us apart.  It ties in with our spreading of the Good News because we meet the Lord there.  Let us witness the Good News to each other at this time.

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