Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Solemnity of the Ascension

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May 30, 2019

Jesus ascended into heaven!  We offer a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM for your prayer. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection June 2 2019. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing. Photos: St. Philip Catholic Church, Litchfield, MN

Luke 24:46-53

A Note: In most dioceses in the United States, the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord is celebrated on the 7th Sunday after Easter. Therefore the focus here is for the gospel text of the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord.

Jesus said to the disciples, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.

Background

Luke presents two accounts of the Ascension. One is today’s gospel text, and the other is the first verses of Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:1-11), which is the first reading for this feast. In Acts, the Ascension story looks forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit, the missionary activity of the early Church to the ends of the earth, and the future establishment of the fullness of the reign of God.

The gospel account focuses on the Ascension as the culmination of Jesus’ ministry, and his departure. Jesus gives one last very short instruction to the disciples before he is taken up into heaven. He tells them that the core of his teaching and the events of his death and resurrection have all been predicted in the earlier writings of their tradition. By making only a general reference to the events of Jesus’ ministry and their tradition, Luke casts all of Jesus’ life and ministry in the light of the religious tradition of the people of Israel.

Another way that Luke expresses that concept is by emphasizing the importance of the holy city, Jerusalem, and the small village of Bethany. Bethany is on the Mount of Olives, and the disciples return to Jerusalem and to the temple to praise God. These two places are associated with Jesus’ suffering and death. But now they take on new meaning and are linked to Jesus’ ultimate glory. Jerusalem and the temple were the center of Jewish faith. The disciples entered the city not to hide behind locked doors, but to go into the temple praising God. The importance of Jerusalem is a constant theme throughout these verses.

Noticeably absent from the description of the ascension to heaven is any sign of cosmic reaction, angelic presence, or divine recognition of Jesus’ final return to take his place with his Father in heaven. The cosmic expression of what has happened is not to be found in heaven, but in God working in and among the disciples as they take the message of Jesus to all the nations. Next Sunday, the feast of Pentecost, the cosmic signs of God’s presence will begin to be manifested. For now, the disciples and the church are in a kind of in-between time, between the Resurrection and Jesus’ return with the fullness of God’s reign. But what is presented here is that the disciples experience the departure of Jesus through a lens of faith. They return from the Ascension filled with a great joy. They are continuously present in the temple praising God. The cosmic impact of what God is doing, which was part of other events of the gospels, is now present inwardly in the lives of the disciples.

Reflection Questions

1. When I think of the absence of people who once played an important role in my life, I…
2. Some the ways I have been asked to take on new roles in the absence of another are…
3. Some of the ways the disciples might have been tempted to respond to Jesus’ absence would include…
4. What strikes you about the response of the disciples to Jesus’ Ascension?
5. What do you find comforting in this text? What do you find challenging?
6. Can you take some time now to talk with God honestly about a loss you have experienced in your own life, about how Jesus’ ascension seems to have affected the early disciples, or about your own feelings about Jesus’ presence or absence in your own life?