20 May 2007 The Ascension of the Lord
Acts 7, 55-60; Rev 22; John 17, 20-26
Let me introduce the celebration today. The Ascension of the Lord is often celebrated on the 40th day after Easter, commemorating the ascension of Christ into heaven (Mark 16, 19; Luke 24,51; Acts 1,2). The 40th day strictly falls on a Thursday, but the Church decided to celebrate it on the 7th Sunday before Pentecost. According to many writings especially St. Augustine, the celebration traces its origins to the Apostolic Period (time of the Apostles after the Ascension). The Eastern church calls this, analepsis or the taking up or the episozomene, the salvation — meaning that Christ completed his work of salvation when He was taken up to heaven. In the Western church, the word ascension is used — meaning that Christ was raised by his own powers.
We shall take our reflection from these meanings. First, the feast is an analepsis or a taking up. We know that scene. Luke said that “he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” In a sense, the analepsis is a blessed goodbye, a blessed withdrawal. It is not one of those bitter and sour goodbyes when one leaves with anger and resentment. When parents love their children, they have an idea of perfect freedom in mind: “I want my children, each in their own special way, to be equipped and freed to enjoy all that life has to offer.” Thus, when we leave our homes for university life, we ask for our parents’ blessings, and then, with their consent, we board the bus. We experience some empty place in our hearts which needs to be filled. We discover that we are without someone like our parents or something, like our homes, that has given us meaning.
The second, the feast is an episozomene or a completion. If the goodbye leaves a space that needs fulfillment, the ascension can also be its finishing point. For example, my experience with the dying tells me that on the last few days, people who have been unforgiving, find themselves willing to forgive and die in peace. It is a wonderful experience when the dying suddenly says, “it is finished” or “into Your hands I commend my spirit.”
The third, the feast is an ascensio. The power of goodbye and completion is also from us. When we experience our aches and goodbyes in our lives, we often find ourselves helpless and distressed. We think that we cannot handle the pain of being separated. We think that we do not have the ability to complete the tasks and responsibilities we have set for ourselves — like a thesis, a project, or a significant leadership position. The ascension teaches us that we can actually do it; that we have the power to see things through. And who gives us the power? Jesus. Jesus gives the Holy Spirit as He promised during his Ascension.
Thus, the celebration of the Lord’s Ascension tells us of its relationship to Pentecost. The feast is celebrated in view of the coming of the Holy Spirit. And thus underscores the fact that Christians are charged with the responsibility of continuing Christ’s action on earth.
*Youth For Christ leaders completing their planning.