The Ascension of the Lord
Reading 1 ACTS 1:1-11
Responsorial Psalm PS 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
- (6)God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.
Reading 2 EPH 1:17-23
Alleluia MT 28:19A, 20B
Gospel MK 16:15-20
Homily—May 12 & 13, 2018
I want to start you out with a bit of trivia. In 1999, the US bishops allowed individual ecclesiastical provinces in the United States to decide whether Ascension should be moved from Thursday to the following Sunday. An ecclesiastical province is a group of local dioceses under the jurisdiction of an archdiocese. Only the ecclesiastical provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Philadelphia and Omaha decided to retain the tradition of observing Ascension on Thursday, while everywhere else in the U.S., the solemnity was moved to Sunday.
So, what is the Ascension? Jesus’ ascension is both an ending and a beginning. The resurrection appearances of Jesus are at an end; his revelation of the kingdom of God is complete; the promise of the Messiah is fulfilled. Now begins the work of his disciples to teach what they have learned and to share what they have witnessed. Like any beginning or transition in life, it is a moment of great uncertainty, confusion, and apprehension. Christ places his church in the hands of a company of illiterate fishermen and otherwise unremarkable people—and yet, what began with those followers of Jesus has grown and flourished through the centuries to this parish family of ours. The church Jesus leaves to them is rooted not in buildings or wealth or systems of theology but in faith nurtured in the human heart, a faith centered in wisdom and trust that is empowering and liberating, a faith that gives us the strength and freedom to be authentic witnesses of the risen One, who is present among us.
Ascension isn’t so much about where Jesus went but about where Jesus sends us. Just as Christ commissioned his own disciples to go to all the nations, our memorial of Christ’s ascension moves us out into the whole world to proclaim the Gospel. As Christ is one in union with the Father, Ascension draws us closer in union with Christ who is found most clearly not up in the sky but here in our neighbor and in those most in need.
In today’s gospel we hear an odd-sounding statement about those who are baptized; they will be able to pick up snakes, drink poison without being harmed and heal the sick by laying hands on them. Aside from a few fundamentalist churches, virtually no Christians take this passage literally. And even those churches who handle snakes and practice faith healings do not drink poison! This gospel is a later addition to the gospel of Mark. The notes in the New American Bible make clear that Mark’s gospel ended at 16:8. Someone did not like the ending to be one where all the disciples run away because they were afraid! And so we have a multiplicity of endings attested to by different manuscripts. What we refer to as Mark 16:9-20 is one such ending, and it is certainly considered canonical, inspired, and authoritative, but it was not part of the “original” gospel. It was written by a later author, probably someone who wanted to address certain issues in their community.
I can understand the desire to keep adding to the gospel. When I write out my homily I am never completely satisfied and if I have time I will redo parts of it or add something else to the ending!
The feast of the Ascension of the Lord is ultimately a reminder of the mission Jesus handed over to his followers, and each of the readings gives us a perspective on that reality. The opening of the Acts of the Apostles presents the scene in which Jesus told the disciples that they were to wait until they received their share of his power to evangelize. The reading from Ephesians prays for the graces needed to fulfill that vocation and know the fullness of Christ. The end of Mark’s Gospel offers a summary of the disciples’ mission—emphasizing its amazing scope and the promise that in carrying on his work, the disciples would have the same experience and challenges as their master.
What does the Ascension mean to your Christian life? How can you be a sign for others?