Today we celebrate the feast of the Ascension. We believe that following the Resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. Before Vatican II it was celebrated on the Thursday of the Sixth week of Easter. Fifty years ago, the feast of the Ascension was moved from Thursday to Sunday for most dioceses in the United States and we followed the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s lead when we became a diocese in 1981. Only the ecclesiastical provinces of Hartford, Boston, New York, Newark, Omaha, and Philadelphia retain this celebration on Thursday of the Sixth week of Easter.
The chronology of dating the Ascension to forty days after Easter exists only in the Acts of the Apostles. In the Gospel of Luke, the Ascension appears to have taken place much earlier, even on Easter. The original ending of Mark’s Gospel did not include the Ascension at all, and it can only be inferred from Matthew’s Gospel conclusion. It seems this became a universal feast by the fifth century.
In the Holy Land itself on the ridge above the Garden of Gethsemane above the Kidron Valley is a very small Orthodox octagonal church where the faithful believe Jesus ascended to heaven, leaving his foot print on a rock that is still reverenced today. We need faith touchpoints and this is one sacred place where people can reflect and pray as they listen to one of the scriptural accounts of the Ascension.
Two authors Stephen Bevans and Roger Schroeder suggest the following for our reflection on the feast of the Ascension: “The church of Christ does not so much have a mission as the mission of Christ has a church.” Like the apostles, and all disciples, it is Christ’s mission, Christ’s work, that we are invited to take up, to live and announce the Good News to all we meet. We have to figure out what part of the work is ours as that work changes throughout our lives.
And last Sunday we heard Jesus say in John’s Gospel, “I command you, love one another as I have loved you.” We can easily spend a lifetime reflecting and acting on those words.
Recognizing we are chosen and called by name, how is God choosing you/me to go forth and bear much fruit? How is Christ calling us now to “love one another?” Let us reflect on these thoughts in our daily prayer and see how our gifts and abilities can be put into action.
In addition, last but not least we celebrate our mothers today, those living and those deceased, thanking God for their role in loving us into existence, raising us, nurturing us, and probably among the first who taught us about God’s love for us. We remember and honor our mothers today and honor their memory.
Easter Blessings, Father Larry Hendel