Ascension of the Lord, Year A
Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Mt 28:16-20
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’ Cycle A, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong. It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2009 and republished in Viet Nam 2012.
To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar, it would be greatly appreciated by the author whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable, that might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
A farewell message is often rich in meaning and deep in sentiment. The one who is leaving tends to tell the one who is staying what is the most important and can be helpful
to the one who stays to remember. Oftentimes we think death is the last farewell. However, Jesus' farewell message to the apostles was not his crucifixion and death, but his Ascension. Yet the Ascension was not really the farewell either since Jesus promised to be with the apostles until the end of time.
We have the impression that Jesus' Ascension into heaven was the end of his life and activity on earth. Yet it is not true. In the prologue of the Gospel of Matthew, it was recorded: The virgin shall be with child and give birth to a son and they shall call him Emmanuel, which means God-is-with-us (Mt 1:23). At the conclusion of the same Gospel, we hear Jesus says: I am with you always, until the end of the age (Mt 28:20).
How could Jesus stay with us after he had left for heaven? When Jesus was on earth, he was limited in his human body. That means when he left Nazareth to go preaching in different parts of Palestine, Mary and Joseph and his neighbors could not see him physically. After the Ascension, Jesus entered into a new dimension so that he could stay with us in a supernatural dimension and a spiritual sense. If we think of Jesus' ascension in a geographical sense, in terms of a vertical dimension as heaven is up high, and earth is down low, then we tend to think Jesus' ascension is far away from us. That would be heretical. On the one hand, the Ascension ended his visible presence on earth. That was a painful experience for the Apostles. On the other hand, his Ascension marked a new beginning. His Ascension does not mean that he abandoned us. He always stays with us in different ways. He stays with us in his word.
He instituted the Eucharist to nourish us spiritually, and to be present with us in the Eucharist. He commanded the apostles to turn bread and wine into his body and blood for our spiritual nourishment. He also established a church, which is his body: the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way (Eph 1:23) and the means of salvation.
He also sent the Holy Spirit to be our bond of union, our source of strength, hope, joy and consolation as he said: It is much better for you that I go. If I fail to go, the Paraclete will never come to you, whereas if I go, I will send him to you (Jn 16:7).So the Ascension which seems to be the final farewell, is only the way that leads to his invisible presence among us: closer, more universal and lasting.
That is the way Jesus is present in his word and the Eucharist. That is the way Jesus is present in his Spirit. That is the way Jesus is present in his Church with his grace. With his presence as such, we now can talk to him, pray to him anywhere and anytime, day and night. We do not need to make an appointment to see him. His presence with us is a supernatural reality. Yet to be aware of his presence or not is a different story.
Before him, nobody is more important than another is. Thus, we do not need to wait for our turn to see him. Anyone can come to him and talk to him. We do not need to call him on the phone or knock at the door to find out if he is home or not. He is there all the times. There is no need to make an appointment to see him. He is always present, always available.
At night, if we find it hard to sleep, we can repeat over and over in an inaudible voice a short prayer like ‘thank you Lord’, or ‘I praise your name, O Lord’ or ‘have mercy on me, O Lord’ or any short prayer which we like, or sing over and over a few verses of a song. Then we would fall asleep without being aware of it. One thing we should try to avoid is to repeat words of complaint when we pray. That would make sleeping difficult.
To live in the peace and grace of God by avoiding sin and keeping his Commandments will lead us to an experience of his presence in our lives. The result of his presence in us is that our life and heart, reflected by his presence in our words and deeds. Reflected by God’s presence, we will bring his presence to others. That is the way we bear witness to our faith and bring God’s presence to others.
A prayer asking Jesus to stay with us:
Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you for being born
into our world and your promise to remain with us
until the end of the age.
We ask you to remain with us in your word,
your sacraments, your Spirit and your grace.
Help me to eliminate obstacles from my life
so that I may experience your presence
in my life and heart. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong