If someone asks to know how you are witnessing to Christ, what will be your answer? If the question goes further to ask whether you’re an active witness or a passive one, how would you respond to that? Would you say you’re not an onlooking Christian? How exactly do you witness? As baptized Christians and Catholics, all of fall into this category -priests, parents, spouses, husbands, wives, children, etc. The feast of ascension challenges us to appraise our level of commitment to missionary discipleship.
Beginning with the disciples, as Jews, it is presumed that they should have known the stories of righteous persons taken up to heaven in the past. Scripture remarks that Enoch (Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5) and Elijah (2 Kgs. 2:11-12) are both taken to heaven at the end of their lives. Yet they are shocked at Jesus’ ascension into heaven. After his resurrection, Jesus continued to speak this way, “A little while and you will no longer see me,and again a little while later and you will see me” (Jn. 16:16). Their questioning about what this “little while” meant showed they did not understand him. Acts of the Apostles states, “as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). The disciples are confused. Then the two men dressed in white garments addressed them, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” (cf. Lk. 24:4-9). The angels’ intervention help to infuse wisdom and knowledge to enlighten the eyes of their minds.
Ascension of Christ happens 40 days after his resurrection. Is Christ gone forever or will he come back again as he did after his resurrection? Remember, forty signifies preparation in the scripture and in this case, a period during which Christ prepares the disciples for their mission towards spreading the kingdom. The disciples aren’t sure, but Jesus keeps speaking about this kingdom of God during those forty days. As they gathered, the disciples ask him again, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel? His answer is that they would receive power on high from the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ ascension inaugurates the new age of the Holy Spirit. Now is the era of proclamation of the good news as mandated by Christ, the era of the kingdom, and of active witnessing.
Ascension of Christ brings to focus what theology describes as the “already but not yet,” which relates directly to our own eschatology or the last things. We may also ask, “where can Jesus be found after his ascension into heaven?” The “already but not yet” teaches that believers are actively taking part in the kingdom of God but will only reach the full expression of this kingdom sometime in the future.
By his ascension Jesus inaugurates the “already” by introducing them into the missionary mandate. First, he teaches them his missionary skills -curing diseases, dispelling demons, feeding the hungry, anointing the sick, forgiving sinners, bringing back the lost, defending the truth, proclaiming justice, and raising the dead. The disciples are witnesses to these things. At his ascension Jesus commissions them, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:20). God’s kingdom is among us in Christ, accomplishing the mission of his Father as “head over all things to the Church which is his body” (Eph. 1:23). We are called to spread God’s kingdom.
However, this kingdom will reach its full expression sometime in the future, what we call the “not yet.” Jesus’ ascension takes us into that kingdom when he says, “'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jn. 17:20). To this the evangelist writes, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn. 3:2). We belong to the kingdom of heaven with the Father who cares for us as his children. Jesus reminds us, “you will receive the Holy Spirit” and “you will be my witnesses.” This is the message of ascension. We are today’s witnesses to the deeds of Christ in the world. We are called to spread the kingdom of life, love, justice, and truth.
The disciples must be wondering what would happen next as they gazed into the clouds and so have questions in their minds: Who will fill the gap? Are we really prepared for this task? Of course, they remembered what happened during the three days of his death, their emptiness, anxiety, and fears. The angels’ intervention is appropriate, “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
Looking at the many things happening today, it is possible that many people have questions for Jesus, too. First, where exactly is Jesus now? Is he gone from us and we are left with a God who has become uninterested in this world? With killings in many places, shooting of innocent kids and adults, where is Jesus? With hatred and violence on the rise, where is Jesus? With selfish politicking and inflation, where is Jesus? Where is Jesus when Christians are persecuted in different parts of the world? Where is Jesus when suicide and addiction take ahold of the minds of some youth? Bet you, the disciples might have wondered as they watched Jesus ascend into heaven. How about their very dark moments? Where was Jesus when he died? Where was he during those three days in the tomb? Where was Jesus when Mary Magdalene could not find him? The answer is that Jesus was there with them, but they didn’t know. Jesus is still here and promises, “Behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.“
Jesus is present as God. He is present at all times and in all places -in our hearts, in our homes, in our relationships, in our struggles. Jesus is present even in our darkest moments, in pains, sorrows, and suffering. Jesus grieves with the grieving and stays strong on the part of those whose spirit is crushed. He is sending us the Spirit, the advocate and comforter. Jesus is profoundly present in the Blessed Eucharist. Jesus is with us always, yes, “until the end of the ages.” So, are you missing that connection between your faith and discipleship? Jesus’ ascension invites you to proclaim the gospel to every creature.
At once the disciples recognized that he was with them and did him homage. They stopped looking and went into action. They returned to Jerusalem with great joy where they continued praising God. Our world needs to recognize that the kingdom of God is with us and to actively promote God’s kingdom. It is the kingdom established on life and goodness. We need to establish this kingdom over every other. Christ has inaugurated us to be his disciples, to spread God’s kingdom which is in and around us. Christ has commissioned us by our baptism to make his kingdom known. If we unite in making God’s kingdom known, we will overcome the kingdom of darkness, hatred, violence, anarchy, and injustice. We must not just look on, rather we must go into active missionary discipleship for Jesus. Jesus says today, “And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Are you still standing looking at the sky?
1st- Acts 1:1-11; 2nd- Eph. 1:17-23; Gospel- Lk. 24:46-53