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Ascension C
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Readings for the Ascension of the Lord, Cycle C

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

 

(Alt.) Hebrews 9, 24-28 and 10, 19-23

  • Now where am I?  Why am I at a loss to deal with these long forgotten images?  Let me raise myself to a cosmic level, where our common fate is in play.
  • The writer has the perspective of God, and heaven itself.  That is fine, since we are all destined for this.  I will slow down as I read, becoming ponderous and decisive.  See the climax below for one set of stage directions.
  • At the same time, I may shed some light on the mystery of the Eucharist, where we also say that Jesus was offered once to take away the sins of many.  In terms of sacrifice, what we remember is not being repeated or duplicated each time.  Let me do my part to slip in a teaching moment.
  • Just as it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment.  We are in the time of remembering the dead and feeling a sense of our own mortality.  These words are a subtheme today.  We speak only of Christ! 
  • He will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation.  Here is our first hint of the Advent season coming.  I speak about our hope, firmly founded, in him.  It would help if my voice sounds firmly founded, too.
  • The second half of the reading is an exhortation directed to the brothers and sisters.  The writer calls for confidence, trust, unwavering confession and hope.  He does not mention the Spirit, but these are all born of the Spirit. 
  • I do not have to browbeat the assembly into some difficult decision.  This is how the believers behave normally, in the face of Christ’s gift of himself, the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh.  No enchanted sword here, no body armor necessary.  Just approach and be counted with him.
  • Climax: But now – once for all – he has appeared (at the end of the ages). 
  • The message for our assembly: This is about Christ.  Let us Christians rejoice.
  • I will challenge myself: To dig deeper, reading it over and over until it penetrates, until I hear the church speaking to me through it.  And let me end on the high note of eagerness as I declare: those who eagerly await him.

 

Gospel.  Luke 24, 46-53 

  • These verses end the Gospel of Luke and to some extent repeat many themes of the first reading, as well as the preaching of the early church.  Let me listen.
  • It is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead.  I hear that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets.  “Is written” means that scripture is living and being continually interpreted, besides itself being interpretation from start to finish. 
  • Repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name.  The passage begins with the third person.  Here is the second preaching theme.  It continues the call to repentance spoken by the Baptist and Jesus himself.
  • You are witnesses.  This echoes the first reading.  In Acts, we hear it become We are witnesses. 
  • They returned to Jerusalem with great joy.  I hear the heritage of Christians.  Many of them will suffer for their witness (martyrdom), for they are no longer locked in a secret chamber but there in the temple as Jesus once was.
  • Climax: I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.  You are clothed with power from on high.  The Holy Spirit is cited over and over in Luke and Acts, and that is what Jesus means even if he does not use the words.
  • The message for our assembly: We are not passive onlookers.  We have received the witness of the apostles in a direct line and it is our turn to keep it alive.
  • I will challenge myself: to make the reading more than a history lesson, or a minor detour into mythology.

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