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Join us every week for background on this Sunday readings.
Our mission is simple:
We want to help everyone in “pew-land” get more out of mass.
Because it’s fun to feel smart about scripture
You may have noticed that the blog border for the Easter season has been yellow. This will change to red when we celebrate Pentecost next Sunday, the coming of the Holy Spirit.
1st Reading: Acts 1:1-11
(The 1st Reading is Old Testament. It always links to the Gospel. During the Easter season the 1st reading is Acts of the Apostles.)
The book of Acts, as we have mentioned before, is part II of Luke’s gospel. Both books are written to someone named Theophilus, though scholars are not exactly sure who this person was. Today we have the first 11 verses, and they are rich with meaning. They are the “preview” – or “the agenda” for the book.
There are two main parts to this reading: 1) Jesus tells the disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit and 2) we behold the Ascension itself.
Jesus tells about the Holy Spirit: First, Jesus tells them the Holy Spirit will come. He says, wait for the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak. For John baptized with water but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
The disciples are still caught up in logistics and asked him, “Lord are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” But Jesus ignores the question. He says, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my Witnesses…
a) in Jerusalem
b) throughout Judea and Samaria and
c) to the ends of the Earth.”
This is how we are supposed to evangelize. Imagine what the water looks like when you throw a pebble into it. You see ripples, right? The first circle is closest in, the next is further out, and so on.
Jesus wants us to start with our inner circles when we evangelize. Jesus tells his disciples the same – start in Jerusalem. Then move outward to Samaria and Judea. Then go to the ends of the Earth.
Same with us! We aren’t yet ready for the outer circles until we’ve done our work on the inner circles of family and loved ones we know. Start at home. Then with community. Then do mission work around the world.
2. The Ascension. At the end, we watch Jesus ascend to the Father. “He was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.” Remember that a cloud was present always during the time Moses wandered in the desert with the Israelites. A cloud signifies God’s presence.
Next we see two men dressed in white garments standing beside them. These are angels. They have an important line in this scene. “Men of Galilee why are you standing there looking at the sky? 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.”
What they’re telling the apostles is, don’t just look toward the sky and daydream about the future and about what Jesus meant. He gave you a job to do. Take action and get going on your missionary ways.
In the first book, Theophilus,
I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught
until the day he was taken up,
after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit
to the apostles whom he had chosen.
He presented himself alive to them
by many proofs after he had suffered,
appearing to them during forty days
and speaking about the kingdom of God.
While meeting with them,
he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem,
but to wait for “the promise of the Father
about which you have heard me speak;
for John baptized with water,
but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
When they had gathered together they asked him,
“Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons
that the Father has established by his own authority.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
throughout Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.”
When he had said this, as they were looking on,
he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.
While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going,
suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.
They said, “Men of Galilee,
why are you standing there looking at the sky?
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.”
“God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.”
In this psalm we see the notion of hands clapping. In a website article, I found this: “The most natural and most enthusiastic tokens of exultation (clapping hands) are to be used in the view of the victories of the Lord. This joy is to extend to all nations. Israel will lead the way but the Gentiles are all to follow in the march of triumph for they have an equal share in the Kingdom.”
The psalm only increases in feelings of joy as we see more images of the Lord mounting his throne amid shouts of joy and trumpet blasts.
2nd Reading: Ephesians 1:17-23
(The 2nd reading is usually one of Paul’s letters. It speaks to how the early church built The Church after the passion, death and resurrection).
Today we are in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. The theme is the mystery of Christ, which was once concealed but now revealed. This is a fitting reading for the Ascension. Jesus, who was once concealed to his followers and so many others, is now revealed as the son of the Father in a most definite and visible way.
Paul provides a prayerful reflection for his readers. “May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call.” May our hearts be lit up – be aflame with love for Christ. (More on the flame next week at Pentecost…)
Later we hear, “far above every principality, authority, power and dominion in this age and the one to come.” Everything is beneath his feet. Jesus is head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.
It states plainly in this reading that the Church is his body. Put simpler still, the Church is the fullness of Christ. This is a beautiful image indeed! Today we are called to act like Christ’s body and show others in our actions and words how Christ lived and loved.
Brothers and sisters:
May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,
give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation
resulting in knowledge of him.
May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call,
what are the riches of glory
in his inheritance among the holy ones,
and what is the surpassing greatness of his power
for us who believe,
in accord with the exercise of his great might,
which he worked in Christ,
raising him from the dead
and seating him at his right hand in the heavens,
far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion,
and every name that is named
not only in this age but also in the one to come.
And he put all things beneath his feet
and gave him as head over all things to the church,
which is his body,
the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.
Gospel: Matthew 16:15-20
(The Gospel is the highest point of the Liturgy of the Word. That’s why we stand.
We are about to hear from and be instructed by Christ Himself.)
Today we hear the final verses of Matthew’s gospel. The last sentence is one of my favorites in all of scripture. We hear Jesus promise us his love and protection: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
A few verses earlier, we also hear him give the disciples – and us – his final request. “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations…”
The eleven disciples went to Galilee,
to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.
When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
Then Jesus approached and said to them,
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
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, until the end of the age.”
It is time for Jesus to return home. His earthly mission is complete. I suspect this would have been a rough day for the disciples, to see Jesus whom they have come to love and worship, leave them.
But they took the torch. Jesus’s words gave them strength to go out and accomplish their mission with great joy.
The Feast of the Ascension is a day for celebration. One of the promises God made to us is being fulfilled. God sent us his only son to save us from our sins. Jesus did that through his death on the cross. He opened Heaven’s gates. God will continue to keep his promise by next week sending us the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
This week, perhaps we can simply contemplate where we need God in our lives right now. How can we call on the Holy Spirit to walk with us? We are never alone. Jesus never planned to leave us alone on Earth. He gave us the third person of the trinity, the Holy Spirit.
Stay tuned for next week’s readings at Pentecost!