In most dioceses, Ascension is now celebrated on the seventh Sunday of Easter. Thus we celebrate Easter for forty-three days, and then backtrack a bit to celebrate the fortieth day, on which Jesus ascended into heaven.
Easter is about Jesus’ humanity and his physical appearance to his disciples and to us. On Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, went to the tomb where Jesus was buried. There was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. The angel told them that he had been raised just as he said. As the angel instructed them, they went to tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Then they ran to announce this to his disciples. And Jesus met them on their way. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage (Mt. 28:1-10).
These verses are unique to Matthew, but there are similarities between them and John’s account of the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene: “Jesus said to her, ‘Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (Jn 20:17). Both accounts refer to a touching of Jesus’ body and a command of Jesus to bear a message to his disciples.
It is not only the women who touch the resurrected Christ. When Jesus walks through the locked doors of the upper room, he shows the disciples the wounds in his hands and feet. Thomas will not believe until Jesus tells him, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” (John 20:27). In John 21, Jesus prepares breakfast for his disciples on the edge of the Sea of Tiberias.
Easter is about Jesus’ physical appearance. Ascension is about Jesus’ physical disappearance. It is Easter in reverse. First Jesus commissions the disciples to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” Then a cloud takes him from their sight.
Easter is about Jesus’ humanity. Ascension is about Jesus’ divinity. In Mark’s Gospel from Mark we hear: “So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God.” To be at the right hand of God is to be in a position of power and authority. It means that Christ is king of heaven and earth.
For Christ to be king of heaven and earth means, in St. Paul’s Letter to Colossians, that in him “were created all things in heaven and on earth. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
We cannot see Christ, who is exalted in heaven. We can see Christ only in one another. It is only with others that we form the Church. We do not live for ourselves. When we pray, we pray not only for ourselves but for one another, and for the whole world. For it is only with others that we can be part of God’s kingdom, whether in heaven or on earth. Even in heaven, we will be with one another. We might reside in our own hell, but heaven is not our own. We need to prepare for that now.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing
from the copyright owner.