Ascension's glory shared with those who walk His path

  • May 15, 2009
Ascension of the Lord (Year B) May 24 (Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:17-23; Mark 16:15-20)

How quickly people try to bend the things of God to human ends. The disciples of Jesus have scarcely recovered from the trauma of the crucifixion and the shock of the Resurrection. Jesus had to convince them that He was truly alive. The short post-Resurrection period described in the Gospels is stretched out to 40 days. As His sojourn was ending, they pressed Jesus to finally do what they had been anticipating all along: restore the kingdom of Israel — purify the land — and drive out the hated Romans.

But Jesus will not be manipulated or rushed — He chides them for their attempts to pry into the plan and timetable of God. When and how are God’s concerns and not ours. Their sole mission at the moment is to wait patiently in Jerusalem for the fiery infusion of God’s spirit. God has in mind a joint effort — the Spirit sent by God and human energy working together according to the divine plan. At that moment the principle mission of His followers was to be His witnesses to the ends of the Earth. The scene ends with Jesus floating upward into the beyond and the warning given to the crowd by the two angelic figures.

They are not to be enamored with the wonder of what they have just seen. Their faith is not merely a peek into the beyond. They are to pay attention to earthly life but with the addition of the promised spiritual empowerment.

Our own spirituality should not be disdainful of the world and human needs. We must be actively engaged in the quest for a just and peaceful world. And it would be a trap to think of the Ascension in spatial terms for this only encourages an otherworldly obsession. Jesus is not “up there” somewhere despite how He may have been manifested to the crowd. Ascension speaks of relationship with God — to ascend to God means to be in union with God and in His eternal presence. The Ascension of Jesus means that the spiritual evolution of humanity has been placed in His hands — and our hands if we are serious about discipleship. 

Ephesians carries this even farther — the Resurrection and the ensuing Ascension is a manifestation of God’s gracious power working on our behalf. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead and lifted Him to the heavens is the same power that is at work in and for us. Wisdom, enlightenment and God’s glory are just some of the gifts that we inherit as children of God and we begin to make use of these gifts in this life.

The verses in Mark are present only in a later “revised edition” as the original ended with verse 8: the women ran away and told no one for they were afraid. Communities in later centuries felt obliged to bring Mark into line with the other three Gospels. But along with this amplification came a few questionable ideas. Is someone really condemned and lost because they do not believe the Gospel? The religious mentality of the first century saw things in “either/or” categories, and the apocalyptic worldview of the evangelists added an overpowering sense of urgency that we do not have. We also have a broader and deeper vision of the working of God’s spirit in history and in human lives. And is it really wise for believers to manifest their faith by drinking poison and handling deadly snakes? This sounds dangerously close to putting God to the test — much like the habit of some of staring directly at the sun to prove their faith.

But this image merely signifies the new power granted to believers: in the newly re-created world nature and humanity are at peace and the fear that usually grips human hearts begins to loosen its grip. Being taken up and seated at the right hand of God is a metaphor for the power of Jesus rather than a description of an all too human royal court or the arrangement of celestial furniture. It has a significance that touches us personally, reminding us that our earthly life is but the initial stage of an eternity with God.

The glory and power of the Ascension and “enthronement” of Jesus is extended and shared with those who believe in His name and walk His path.