And he said to them, 'Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.' Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Today we hear St Luke finished his gospel with a condensed account of the appearances of Christ after his resurrection. In the beginning of the gospel, Jesus reminded his disciples again that it was written in the sacred books of the Old Testament his sufferings and triumph, which is referred to resurrection, is clearly foretold in Deutero-Isaiah in the suffering servant prophecies. On the third day is mentioned in the Book of Jonah 2:1.
In addition to how his sufferings and triumph were foretold, he commissioned his apostles to a new mission. That is the Church he had founded on the apostles was to be world-wide. Penance means a turning over to the new Christian life to be preached in his name that is by his power and authority, to all people. Furthermore, the apostles were his representatives in this universal mission.
He told them that the Holy Spirit which the Father and the Son would send on the apostles to complete the work of salvation begun and established in the Church by Christ – this work of the Holy Spirit would go on until the end of time. For the time being, he asked the apostles to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them in a public and startling fashion on Pentecost day.
After going out as far as Bethany, a little village on the eastern slope of Mount Oliver, he disappeared from their sight. His rising towards the sky was a visible sign of his ascension to heaven as the common opinion then was that God’s dwelling place was above the sky.
The last verse, “in the Temple speaking the praises of God” refer to the period after the descent of the Holy Spirit as described in Acts chapters 2 to 9.
What is relevancy of the gospel to us today? Today’s feast – the Ascension of Our Lord in his human nature – to his Father’s and our Father’s home, is the confirmation and the guarantee of the doctrine of our faith that death is not the end of man. We shall all rise from the grave with new, glorified bodies and ascend to heaven, as Christ did. There we will begin our true life of eternal happiness.
While it is true that even for good Christians the death of a beloved one is a cause of sorrow and tears, this is natural as we still are of the earth. Yet the certitude that our beloved one has gone to his true life and will be there to meet us when our turn comes, is always at the back of our minds to console and comfort us. What all human beings want is to live on forever with our dear ones. Death breaks that continuity but only for a little while. That break is necessary for the new life to begin.
It is only in heaven that this natural desire of an unending life with all those we love can be realized and death on earth is the door to that eternal life.
Look up to heaven today. See Christ ascending to his Father and our Father. Say: Thank you, God, for creating me, and for giving me, through the Incarnation of your beloved Son, the possibility and the assurance that if I do my part here, when death comes it will not be an enemy but a friend, to speed me on my way to the true, supernatural life which you have, in your love, planned and prepared for me. Amen.