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Ascension of the Lord, June 1, 2014

(Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:16-20)

The Ascension marks the end of the appearances and sightings of
the risen Jesus by the apostles (excluding Saul/Pauls experience in
Acts 9). If the heavens were filled with the Lords glory at the birth of
Jesus (Luke 2:8-14), marked by the appearance of an angel to the
shepherds, now the risen Jesus ascends into heaven to share in the
glory of the Father. In the Acts reading, two men dressed in white
robes announce to the apostles that Jesus will return in the same way.
They do not say when, only that it will happen. Thus the story of Jesus
is completed.
Other events in the Acts passage which bring closure to the
Gospel include the mention of John the Baptist, whose birth was
announced before the birth announcement of Jesus. The adult John the
Baptist had also mentioned a coming baptism with the Holy Spirit, as
does this farewell account of the risen Jesus. We might also note that
this departure takes place in and around Jerusalem, just as the birth
narrative included events in and around Jerusalem. Luke was nothing
if not careful in arranging Acts to mesh well with his Gospel.
The only slight problem to interrupt this peaceful and serene
presentation of the departure of Jesus on a cloud into heaven is the
Gospel for todays feast, which this year comes from Matthew. In
Matthews Gospel the departure takes place in Galilee at the
mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. Of course, Matthew does
not mention a departure but he does mention the command to teach
all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have
commanded you.
This presents us with a problem for those who expect consistent
information which agrees on every detail found in the New Testament.
Such information simply does not exist. Those who think we are
meant to read the New Testament like we would a newspaper become
greatly frustrated when they discover that individual evangelists rarely
agree on anything. The disagreements range from small word changes
or the order of words, to the unbridgeable gap that exists between
Luke and Matthew on the ascension.
We have already seen how Luke arranged things in Acts to fit
with his Gospel. Matthew presents this scene at the end of the Gospel,
to connect with what the angel had told the women who had come to
the tomb earlier in the chapter: Go quickly and tell his disciples He
has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee;
there you will see him. After this Jesus himself met the women and
told them the same thing. Thus it is to Galilee they go and there they
see him in Sundays scene.
The mountain to which they went might have been the mountain
of the Transfiguration account in Matthew 17 but there is no way to
verify that, other than that it was in Galilee. Others think it was the
mountain of the great sermon. The faith they have (they worshipped
him), mixed with doubt, probably reflects the disciples experience
throughout the Gospel.
In the end we cannot say for certain what happened to mark this
feast of the Ascension. It is clear that at some point the risen Christ
stopped appearing to the disciples and other witnesses. From that time
on the disciples relied on the Holy Spirit of Jesus to guide them in
proclaiming the gospel to all nations, as we still do today.

Fr. Lawrence Hummer