SUNDAY, SEVENTH WEEK OF EASTER (ASCENSION OF THE LORD)
Acts 1: 1-11; Ps 47: 2-3, 6-9; Eph 1: 17-23; Lk 24: 46-53
CELEBRATING THE FAREWELL PARTY OF THE LORD
We have all been to farewell parties, haven’t we? In schools and in colleges farewell parties don’t seem to be a happy event. Though it is all about signing slam books, exchanging phone numbers or promising to stay in touch with each other, it is usually an event of mixed emotions. We return home sad, reminiscing how swiftly the days went by and wishing we could relive them. But, in a few days, everything is forgotten except for occasional nostalgic memories. Life moves on! ‘Those great days’ eventually recede into the past.
Today is the solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord – the day Jesus left earth and ascended into heaven. After thirty-three years of earthly life, including the three years in the company of the disciples, Jesus returns to the place where he came from. So, the feast of the Ascension seems like a ‘farewell party. But the ambience of this ‘farewell party’ departs from the common experience in that, unlike the melancholic drama that generally marks them, this is an event of joy and grandeur. It is a moment of rejoicing as the “Lord mounts his throne with shouts of joy” (Ps 47:5).
What makes this farewell event a unique one? Gifts and more gifts! Unlike the typical parties where the person being bid goodbye is given gifts, in the Ascension farewell, it is the ‘goer’ i.e., the Lord who grants the gifts:
The first gift: The Lord goes, he creates: In his going to heaven, the Lord grants us his first gift. He makes us a new creation by giving us a new face, a new body and a new spirit. This ‘facelift’ is granted to us in accepting him as our Lord. Only then do we put on this new self, the clothes of the risen Christ. Embracing his words in the first reading, “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and to the ends of the earth”, we armour ourselves, set to be his martyrs. The word ‘witness’ literally translates to ‘martyr’ in Greek which means ‘to give testimony to others’. We have seen the Lord as the disciples did, and now we bear testimony to others who haven’t. For this, the Lord creates us as his instrument of salvation as he goes to heaven.
The second gift: The Lord goes, he gives: As he ascends, he promises his second gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit. As we witnesses have now clothed ourselves in his armour, we need the strength, the courage and the motivation to bear witness. The second gift makes this happen. It validates the first. Jesus promised during his ascension that the disciples will be baptized by the Holy Spirit. In granting this, the greatest gift, the apostles, and we, inherited the mission of Christ and the responsibility for the same, along with strength to fulfil it. Thus, with the gift of the Holy Spirit, our witness of Christ becomes more credible and truer as the advocate of Christ i.e. the Holy Spirit, speaks on our behalf.
The third gift: The Lord goes, yet he stays: The Lord has created us anew through him and has also granted us the Holy Spirit. Yet, the third gift becomes the goal for which the first two gifts are granted. In preaching Christ, we preach not a dead God, nor do we indulge in some legalized madness as some thinker’s project. Christianity is rather, in becoming his witnesses, we preach a living God who was, who is and who will be forever. Thus, though we might misunderstand Jesus as he who ascended to heaven and left the world once and for all, that is not the case. In his ascension to heaven, he transcends the physical dimensions of space and time. Thus, in his ascension to heaven, he makes himself available to all people throughout the world and for all ages.
Therefore, the ascension of the Lord becomes a unique farewell party where the beneficiaries are the ones who bid him adieu. It becomes unique further when his company is promised to all, even after his farewell! So, what holds us back from paying him homage and continually praising him as the disciples did?
Response: God goes up with shouts of joy. The Lord goes up with trumpet blast.
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