by Fr. Ed Liptak, SDB
St. Paul’s renderings of the fact of Jesus ascending into Heaven are striking. Among them is Ephesians 2:6-11. Paul recorded from prison how moved he was to know of their strong faith. He uttered a soulful prayer for them and added with deepest feeling a petition that they stand together in imitation of the humble obedience of Christ. It is a summary of our faith.
Says Paul, Christ existed in the form of God, but He took on the form of humanity. He came to earth and lived among us in human appearance. In humble obedience to his Father, he became “obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Therefore, God exalted Jesus who deserves full love and respect, not only from us, but “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth to proclaim: Jesus Christ is Lord.”
This is the prefund reality that lies behind the detailed presentation of St. Luke in Acts. Through the ages, Christians have counted the forty days Luke indicated from Resurrection to Thursday of this 6th week of Easter—”Ascension Thursday.” Only recently did our Bishops move the Day of Obligation to Sunday. In detail Luke tells how Jesus promised the Holy Spirit. Then He ascended, fading into the heavens. Angels appeared and told the Eleven that He would return as they saw him go. Ascension Thursday remains for us the first day of the Novena to the Holy Spirit, first in the Church, from this Thursday to Pentecost.
Matthew was not as concerned with the exact time and place of the Ascension. He was one of the Eleven who witnessed it. It was somewhere atop a high place in Galilee, and what struck him most in interpreting what he saw was the mission confided to them. The final words of Jesus have become the final words of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus shared his power with them. They were to go and seek disciples from all nations. They were to Baptize them in God’s threefold Name and to teach them as they had been taught by Jesus. What He commanded, they should command. Our Church is truly the Apostolic Church
“And behold, I am with you always,
Until the end of the age,”