by Fr. Dumisani Vilakati
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First reading: Acts 1:1-11
Responsorial: psalm Psalm 47
Second reading: Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:19-23
Gospel: Luke 24:46-53
After forty days since Easter Sunday the Church celebrates the ascension of the Lord. The ascension is a way of Jesus becoming fully present to his disciples, ourselves, as he continually blesses us.
The first reading highlights the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus as we are told that he chose the apostles by the Holy Spirit. Remember too that at the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary, Luke tells us that she was filled with the Holy Spirit. So, where there is the Holy Spirit there also is Jesus. It is the same Spirit that the apostles will receive and as such be enabled to be witnesses of Christ right up to the ends of the earth. As Jesus ascends, a cloud takes him from their sight. The symbolism of the cloud recalls the exodus experience. In that dramatic moment of the exodus, God appeared to the people in a pillar of cloud, at least by day. We are told there that the cloud provided some protection from the Egyptian army which was in pursuit of God’s people. Even as Jesus seems to take leave of the apostles, nevertheless God’s abiding presence among them is assured in the symbolism of the cloud herein recalled. As they are looking up two men appear in their midst who continue to give them some instructions on Jesus. There will be a second coming of Jesus. We continue to wait for this as Christians under the firm guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit.
The responsorial psalm contains praise for God who ascends with jubilation and trumpet blast. The theme of praising God is quite present in the readings today as the apostles (in today’s gospel) praise God unceasingly in the Temple.
The second reading speaks of the sacrifice of Christ which is forever effective. This is unlike the daily sacrifices offered in the Temple or even the one done once a year at the feast of the Atonement by the High Priest. We know that at the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, the practice of sacrificing animals at the Temple was permanently interrupted and the Jewish priesthood disappeared forever. Jesus’ sacrifice, which is his own death, is forever valid for the forgiveness of sins. He is the new High Priest and has no need to be repeatedly offering sacrifice. For, “Christ has offered for all times a single sacrifice for sins and has taken his seat at the right hand of God”. (Heb 10:12) The mass is Jesus’ sacrifice which forgives sins. Our task is simply to draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need (Heb 4:16).
The gospel sees Jesus instructing his apostles for the last time. He speaks on his passion, death, resurrection and preaching on the forgiveness of sins. In a sense this is a total package of what the Christian life is all about as the missionary activity of the Church is about these things.
Subsequently, Jesus leads the apostles out of Jerusalem to Bethany where he is lifted up. His posture as he is lifted up is the lifting up of hands and the action of blessing. This blessing is what keeps the apostles joyful as they continue worshipping God in the Temple.
The gospel thus ends with the apostles praising God in the Temple. In fact, that is exactly where the gospel began when Zechariah was doing his duties in the Temple and as such praising God. At that moment he received the promise of a son who would be the forerunner of the Christ. Even here, at the end of the gospel, we are on the throes of a promise, the Holy Spirit, who will be our forerunner in all that we do. Do not be afraid.