THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD
24th May 2020
IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE
The Gospel passage for today is the final paragraph of Matthew’s version of the Good News. The eleven remaining disciples have returned to Galilee as instructed by the message given to the women by the angel at the tomb and by the risen Jesus himself
This is the final appearance of Jesus in which he reveals himself in his glorified state to his followers. But there is no goodbye: rather, with the authority now granted him, he commissions his disciples to continue his mission throughout the world. The Gospel ends with an echo of he angel’s message in the dream to Joseph: “They will call him Immanuel, a name which means ‘God -is-with-us'”; this is fulfilled in the promise of the risen Jesus, “Know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.” Thus the Gospel ends, not with the departure of Jesus, but with the promise of his continuing presence.
The title for today’s reflection comes from an article by the abbot of an English Cistercian monastery in which he considers how the journey of the first astronauts to the moon changed our understanding of the Ascension of Jesus. Once human beings had traveled into space, the idea of Jesus literally going up beyond the clouds became even more difficult to sustain than perhaps it had been before.
This year, the Gospel passage from Matthew does not relate the dramatic departure of Jesus as does Luke. But we might note that Luke gives us two distinct accounts of the same event:at the end of the Gospel, on the evening of Easter day, Jesus took the disciples to the outskirts of Bethany, blessed them, withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven.
According to the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, composed by the same writer, 40 days later Jesus was lifted up while they looked on, and a cloud took him from their sight. This gives us a clue that Luke wants us to understand the Ascension not so much as a literal historical event, but as emphasising Jesus’ altered state by virtue of the Paschal(or Easter) Mystery. The cloud in the Bible is often a symbol of the divine presence, so the theme being presented is that Jesus is now living in the presence of the Lord.
Abbot Erik comments that the (lunar) mission was a scientific triumph, but for our theological imagination , it was a disaster. But was it? All Gospel stories are to some degree symbolic: the author wants us to penetrate beyond the literal meaning and see the deeper implications from our own lives as well as telling us something about the person of Jesus. If the exploration of space has made us rethink the meaning of the Ascension of Jesus, then it has done us a positive service. Perhaps we need to think more about Matthews ending and the continuing presence of Jesus with us in our world than imagining that Jesus has left us and gone elsewhere: he is God-with -us, here and now !
I am with
to the end
Look up at the sky.
Think of the words of
the angels to the disciples,
“Why are you standing here
looking into the sky?”
Where do you imagine Jesus to be today?
The Ascension is the last of the appearances
of the Risen Jesus to his disciples.
The appearances express the glorified
existence of the Risen Jesus, not now
confined by time and space.
Jesus’ promise to be with his disciples is the
fulfilment of the symbolic name Immanuel
given to him at the beginning Matthew’s
If you are following Mass online below is the Sunday Mass Missalette text. If you click on the image you can enlarge the text.