Gospel Reflection for May 29, 2022 – Feast of the Ascension

Scripture Readings: Acts 1.111; Ephesians 1.17-23; Luke 24.46-53

Jesus spoke to his disciples, saying, Thus it is written that the messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance and forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. See, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you, so stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Then Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. As he blessed them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. They did him homage, worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God (Luke 24.46-53).

The simple words that begin Sunday’s gospel summarize Luke’s theology of fulfillment. “It is written that the messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.” At first Jesus’ crucifixion discombobulates his followers. How can the true messiah be so powerless that he suffers death by crucifixion like a criminal? Then Jesus’ resurrection puts his death in a whole new light. As Jesus’ followers continue to read and pray the scriptures of Israel, they find words and images that anticipate a messiah who suffers.

As a prophet bringing good news to the poor, release to captives, freedom for the oppressed, Jesus runs headlong into conflict with authorities, other Jewish teachers and priests, and ultimately the Roman Empire. Prophets make waves. In the last seven verses, Luke ties up loose ends of his gospel narrative. Jesus commissions his disciples to preach the good news of his resurrection and repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name. Then he blesses them, withdraws, “and was carried into heaven.

Why do Jesus’ disciples react with such joy at his withdrawing? In withdrawing from them, Jesus is entering his glory. His disciples bless God for all that has happened. They express their joy and thanksgiving as Jews by praying in the temple. Jesus’ disciples have a second reason for joy—his message of forgiveness. In Luke’s gospel they now see Jesus’ suffering and death as necessary. The disciples have passed from confusion to Easter faith.

Thirdly, Jesus’ disciples await what the Father promised—a clothing in power from on high. Luke’s story is only half over. The Acts of the Apostles is the sequel to his gospel. The ascension is the hinge event between Jesus’ resurrection and his sending of the Spirit.

Luke ends his gospel with Jesus’ departure and begins the Acts of the Apostles with the same moment. In the ascension Jesus passes over into communion with God, bridging the human and divine. He blesses this company of followers about to become a Spirit-filled community.

Who do you see among the joyful disciples blessing God in the temple and awaiting the Holy Spirit? Read Acts 1.12-14.