HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE ASCENSION, YEAR C (MAY 5 OR 8)
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
The phrase that best sums up the readings today in terms of us as followers of Jesus is the term “clothed with power”. In the Gospel readings today, Christ foretold all that would happen to him and showed how it was all foretold by Scripture. He told the Apostles that their job was to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sin to all peoples. But he also told them that they weren’t quite ready. Something was going to happen to them in the very near future, and they were to wait for it to happen. This “something” he described as being “clothed with power from on high.”
We hear a similar story in the opening of the Acts of the Apostles, our first reading today. In Acts, Luke expands on this message of being clothed with power. He says that the Apostles “will be baptized by the Holy Spirit.” When he is questioned about the meaning of this, he explains further: “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
This explanation in both the Gospel and Acts is the last thing Jesus tells them before he leaves them. Basically he was saying that he would not leave them to fend by themselves without him, but that they would be empowered by the Spirit as his last gift to them, so that they would have the ability to continue Jesus’ mission.
In both accounts the physical body of Jesus is lifted up only to disappear in the sky. In Acts, we suddenly have angels addressing the astonished apostles who tell them that Jesus will come again one day. This is why we pray at the end of the Our Father each Mass that we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Jesus was present physically for forty days – and we recognize that there must be some significance to the number of days. It is the same amount of days that he was in the desert fasting before he began his public life. But the number forty is very significant all throughout the Bible. In Noah’s story, it rained forty days and forty nights. Moses, after fleeing Pharaoh spent 40 year as a shepherd. Later he was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights. We are told in Deuteronomy that if a man were to be whipped, it could be no more than 40 lashes. The Israelites wandered the desert for 40 years. Jonah warned the people of Nineveh to mend their ways for 40 days and nights. And there are many more such passages.
While the number of 40 days means a literal 40 days, for example after the Resurrection, there is also a metaphoric symbolism to it. It seems to indicate a time of preparation, a time of testing.
So the forty days Jesus was on earth after the Resurrection was a time of preparation and testing for the the second phase of his mission to begin – one where the Apostles are given the power to complete his mission.
In the reading from St. Paul to the Ephesians today, Paul explains what the power of the Spirit does to the Apostles and to us who receive it. First, it is a spirit of wisdom and revelation which expands as we come to know Jesus more and more. Through this “enlightenment” of the Spirit we can come to know hope and begin to understand what riches await us.
Then Paul looks at the ascended Christ who has been seated at the right hand of God, so that Jesus is greater than any earthly power, rule, authority or dominion. He is the head the body, his Church, and so we can be heirs of that same kingdom of heaven to which he ascended.
The Psalm today foretells this glorification of Jesus as well. “God has gone up with a shout”. “God is king over the nations. God sits on his holy throne.”
It seems to be that all this is very difficult for us to understand today. Most of us do not see heaven as a physical place but more of a state of being. Many of us in the United States do not understand kingdoms or kingship. What then can we draw from the readings today?
I want you to concentrate on what Jesus said – that the Apostles – and you – would be given the power to help you do two things: repent and forgive. Those are the two things that Jesus mentions in Luke that are all we are to concentrate on both in our own lives and when dealing with others, teaching others, interacting with others. The repentance is the forty days symbol – it is turning around and looking at your life with honesty, and then asking and being given forgiveness for that – and moving on. Jesus’ teaching is so wonderful in that it allows us to let go of the past and to embrace a new future with knowledge of how we can do better.
What heaven will be like, I don’t really know. No one does. We can only have hope that it will follow the same pattern – that we will be asked to look at our lives, and repenting, will be offered forgiveness. The reward that will follow will be great simply because we are part of the body of Christ as Paul said today, and we will enter into the glory of Christ, seated at the right hand of God, whatever form that takes.
It is a hope, it is foundational for our faith, it is the Good News of what Christ ascending has promised us. Let us dwell on it and have great hope in Jesus. God bless.