How to Celebrate the Seventh Week of Easter
This Sunday is the Seventh Sunday of the Easter Season. However, in some places, such as our Catholic Diocese, Auckland, it will be the Feast of the Ascension. Historically, that feast was celebrated on Thursday because in the Acts of the Apostles we read that Jesus appeared to his followers for forty days after His Resurrection. (Acts 1:3) But the Feast can be moved to Sunday by the conferences of Bishops. And, in many places it has been.
If Jesus is not present as he was before the crucifixion, then how is he leading us, teaching us, and being present to us?
The Feast of the Ascension of the Lord Jesus helps to explain the Christian vocation and unveils the horizon which opens before us as we continue to live our lives. It points to the ongoing plan of redemption for each of us. It gives us a glimpse of the loving plan of God for the whole of creation.
This Feast also points us toward a deeper understanding of the Feast of Pentecost which we will celebrate next Sunday. The very Breath of God, His Holy Spirit, has been breathed into the Body of Christ, the Church - and into each one of us as members of that Body. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit who would guide the Apostles in their various activities. In fact, the Church will never be alone and it will never be abandoned by the risen Lord Jesus. We celebrate that reality today as we mark the close of the post resurrection appearances of Jesus.
In one sense, the Ascension celebrates that Jesus has come full circle because, having come from the Father to accomplish a specific mission, he returns to the Father having achieved what he was sent to do. And he was sent to save us from spiritual death and alienation from God that is due to our sins.
But in another sense, the Ascension marks the passing on of the baton by Jesus to his apostles. At the beginning of his public ministry, he had preached that the kingdom of heaven was close and he had challenged people to repent of their sins and believe in the Good News, which involves putting the teachings of Christ into practice in their lives. Now the responsibility for that ministry was being passed on to the apostles and disciples. They were mandated to continue his saving work, drawing all nations to the truth of the Gospel.
Jesus’ departure from the earth and his return to heaven did not mean that his apostles and disciples would remain alone in their mission. Although he would no longer be physically present, he told them:
‘And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time’ (Mt 28:20).
So there was no need for them to worry or to be lacking in confidence because he would be spiritually present, especially in the sacramental life of the Church.
The message of the Ascension is clear. The saving work of Christ is now being handed over to the Church. The baton is being passed on to us. Just as in a relay race, it is imperative that we do not drop the baton. In other words, the responsibility for passing on the faith rests with us. Let us carry the faith with courage and conviction and let us pass it on to those we meet.
Jesus commissions us:
“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 time.”(Mt 28: 18 - 20).
Adapted from John Littleton
Journeying through the Year of Matthew, Gospel Reflections.