08 May 2016


Solemnity of the Lord’s Ascension
Lk 24:46-53 (Acts 1:1-11 / Ps 47 / Heb 9:24-28. 10:19-23)

Today, we celebrate the Lord’s ascension into heaven.  In the Gospel we read today, St. Luke gives us a vivid description: Jesus led His disciples “as far as Bethany, raised His hands, and blessed them.  And as he blessed them," St. Luke continues, "He parted from them and was taken up to heaven.  They did Him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy..." (Lk 24:50-52).  Jesus blessed His disciples and they returned to Jerusalem with great joy.  To bless and to rejoice – these are two very important elements of Christian life, the life of every disciple of Jesus, the life of each one of us.

“To bless”, in Hebrew, is berakah which literally means “to give thanks.  When we bless, we give thanks.  We bless one another when we thank one another.  When we thank one another, we bless one another.  The same is true in our worship of God.  We thank God by blessing Him.  When the priest prepares the bread and wine for consecration in the Holy Mass, he prays: "Blest art Thou, Lord, God of all creation, for through Thy goodness we receive this bread/wine we offer Thee...."  Blessing God is telling God, “Thank You po, dear God.”

Indeed, our life must be a constant blessing, a continuing “thank you”, to God and to one another.  But we are not only blessings TO God and TO one another; we should also strive to be blessings FOR God and FOR another.  As disciples of Jesus, we should strive to be the reasons for the gratitude of God and of others just as we are grateful to God and to others too.  When we thank God and when He is grateful to us, God is blest.  The same is true with our fellow human beings: they are blest when we thank them and when, because of us, they are thankful to God, too.

Do we bless God?  Do we thank Him enough?  Do we bless others?  Do we still know how to say thank you to one another?

Are we blessings FOR God and FOR others?  In what way?

Are we blessings or curses?  Are we blest or accursed?

As Jesus ascends into heaven, St. Luke writes, He blessed His disciples. Did He not do something similar during the Last Supper?  And that detail from the Last Supper of Jesus and His disciples we remember and utter at the very heart of our every Eucharistic worship: “(Jesus) took bread, and giving Thee thanks, said the blessing….  (Jesus) took the chalice, and giving Thee thanks, said the blessing….”  In variations particular to them, Mt 26:26-27, Lk 22:19-20, and Mk 14:22-24 all have this account, while in Jn 6:11, with the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, this Eucharistic action is foreshadowed.  Jesus blessed bread and wine during the Last Supper and so did He bless His disciples as He ascends into heaven.  Jesus thanked the Father for the gifts of the earth that would become His Flesh and Blood.  And He thanked the same Father for His disciples, too.  Blessing the bread and wine, Jesus consecrated them for the use of God.  Blessing His disciples, Jesus also consecrated them for the service of God.

Present-day disciples of Jesus that we are, we, too, are blest and consecrated by Jesus.  He thanks God for us and  He consecrates us for the service of God, too.  Be a blessing always. Be a servant of God always.  You are blest.  You are consecrated.

The reaction of the disciples to the Lord’s ascension can be baffling though.  After Jesus returned to heaven, the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy.  Baffling for two reasons.  First, ordinarily the human response to separation is sadness not joy.  Second, the mere mention of “Jerusalem” should signal fear and sorrow not joy – fear because Jerusalem was the headquarters of their enemies and sorrow because it was in Jerusalem that Jesus was put to death by the same enemies.  But no, the disciples, having seen Jesus left, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, so says our evangelist for today.  This profound change in the disciples must have come from what, years later, St. Paul the Apostle would write in Rom 8:31-39, “If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give s all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?  It is God who justifies.  Who then is the one who condemns?  No one.  Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who is raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardshrip or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  The disciples rejoiced at the Lord’s ascension because, coming to believe that Jesus is the living proof of God’s love for them, they have accepted and welcomed Jesus into their lives.  Jesus now dwells in each of them.  Indeed, Jesus was taken out of their sight but out of their hearts.  Jesus returned to heaven while His disciples returned to Jerusalem with Jesus in each of them; and so they returned to Jerusalem with great joy.  They were not separated from Jesus; rather they had entered into a deeper relationship with Him, for they came to know by experience what Jesus meant when He told them: "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (Jn 14:27).  Do we have that same joy?  Is the same peace ours, too?  Can we face our fears with the joy of Jesus?  Are others baffled by the peace we have in the midst of adversities?

As we end our reflection, it is worth noting that St. Luke concludes his Gospel just as he commenced it.  At the beginning and at the end of the Lukan Gospel is the same theme of blessing and great joy.

In Luke’s infancy narrative, like a refrain of a happy song, joy rings out in Lk 1:28, 44, and 47, while in Lk 2:10, referring to the birth of Jesus, the angel announced to the shepherds, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”  And now, as we have been reflecting on, St. Luke ends his Gospel by reporting to us that the disciples, after Jesus ascended into heaven, returned to Jerusalem with great joy.

At the start of his Gospel, St. Luke tells us the story of Zechariah, a priest in the Temple and the father of John the Baptist, who, having doubted the angel’s message to him, was made deaf and mute.  When he came out from the Holy of Holies, he could not speak anymore and so failed to give the blessing to the people who came to worship.  But now, as he ends his Gospel, St. Luke presents Jesus, the Great High Priest of the New Covenant,  as the second reading today calls Him, giving the blessing that Zechariah failed to give.

St. Luke ends his Gospel as he began it: with great joy and blessing.  May our individual and communal lives be gospels of great joy and blessing, too.


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