This week’s readings from the Acts of the Apostles and Matthew’s Gospel recount the historical occurrence of Jesus ascending to the Father. He does this in the presence of his disciples who later recount the event to the believing church. There is, however, a much deeper spiritual meaning to the Ascension than the simple physical departure of Jesus from this earth. The second reading from the Letter to the Ephesians reflects on the enduring significance of Jesus’ ascent into heaven.
The writer of Ephesians wants his readers to understand three ideas about how God works. The writer points out that his readers, called by God, share an inheritance in God’s glory, and as believers manifest the surpassing greatness of God’s power. All of these works are revealed in an exemplary way in the life of Jesus. From the Lenten and the Easter Scripture readings we can understand how God called Jesus in hope, how God shared riches of glory with Jesus and how Jesus’ life was a manifestation of the greatness of God’s power.
We also see the results of God’s work as it is manifested in Jesus’ life. God raised Jesus from the dead. God seated him at his right hand in the heavens. Finally, God put all things under Jesus’ feet and established him as head over all things. God does all of this for the sake of the church. While the images in the passage are appropriate to a royal court, they clearly express the centrality of Jesus in God’s plan to bring about the redemption of the whole world. The last act of the plan begins with the paschal mystery of Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection and ascension.
Coming from the splendor and glory of the Resurrection, we could take a kind of ho-hum attitude towards this solemnity of the Ascension, but it is rich in its theological and spiritual import for life. Our celebration of the Ascension has many aspects. It is an historical event. It tells us about God’s work. The story in the Gospel tells us what happened and how it happened. More importantly it indicates the ultimate significance of Jesus for all of history and beyond.
Having examined the text from Ephesians to understand the Ascension as an essential mystery of our faith, we now turn to the Gospel and hear Jesus’ very last words in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus expresses the mission for every disciple with an accompanying promise: “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 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:19-20).
Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.