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. In the past it was celebrated on the Thursday of the Sixth week of Easter. Fifty years ago, the feast of the Ascension moved from Thursday to Sunday, in particular for the Diocese of San Jose and for most dioceses in the United States. 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 Day. The original ending of Mark’s Gospel did not include the Ascension at all, and it can only be inferred from Matthew’s conclusion. It seems this became a universal feast by the fifth century.
In the Holy Land on the ridge above the Garden of Gethsemane is an Orthodox eight sided church where the faithful believe Jesus ascended and left his foot print on a rock that is still reverenced today. We need touchpoints and this is one sacred place where people can reflect and pray as they listen to one of the Ascension accounts given in the scriptures.
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. We have to figure out what part of the work is ours. That work changes throughout our lives.
As I have written before, through Christ we are given a variety of gifts, first at Baptism, then at Confirmation, all the natural or developed gifts we use in our lives each day. We know that Christ has chosen us and given us the gifts we need to serve Him and others every day. What are the gifts God has given to you? Some are self-evident like life, breath, and the ability to think and function in our respective vocations that may include school being a student, engaging in our work and even in retirement, how we choose to spend our time. Other gifts and talents emerge out of virtues: compassion, empathy, peace-making, arbitration, negotiation, mediation, mentoring, tutoring, giving example, and modeling Christian behavior.
Recognizing we are chosen and called by name, how is God choosing you/us to go forth and bear much fruit this day? How is Christ calling you/us now to “love one another?” Let us reflect on these thoughts in our daily prayer and see how our gifts and talents are put into action.
Father Larry Hendel