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May 13: The Ascension of the Lord [B]

First Reading Acts 1:1-11
Second Reading Ephesians 1:17-23
Gospel Mark 16:15-20

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved….”

For those who followed Jesus during the first century, the day of Jesus’ Ascension was filled with much fear and anxiety. After all, the day of Jesus’ Ascension is like Good Friday. Both days cause us to ask: why should we celebrate the end of a good thing? Why do we call the day of Jesus’ death “Good” Friday? Both days point us to one of the central mysteries of our spiritual life: those who are bound together by love do not have to grow weaker when they are separated. When we must leave those we love to follow a higher calling, we have the chance to grow in our capacity to love those from whom we’re separated.

In the life of Christ and His bride, the Church, these two events—Jesus’ Death and His Ascension—were necessary parts of God’s plan of salvation. However, in truth, God is never truly gone from our midst: not on Good Friday, and not today as He rises from the midst of His followers. Though He departs, He means to appear in new ways.

The Ascension of Jesus—His leaving this earth in bodily form—allowed his followers to assume their calling to be the Mystical Body of Christ. Without Jesus leaving this earth, why would the Church need to be the Body of Christ? Why would the Church celebrate the Eucharist, to make Christ present sacramentally if He were still on earth in human form?

We have to be willing to look for God’s presence. Back in Jesus’ day, the people of Israel had been demoralized by the Roman Empire. The nation of Israel had always prided itself on its military power. Then their nation was taken over by the Romans. “Where was God?” they asked themselves.

When Jesus walked this earth, He claimed to answer the question of God’s Presence in the world with two words: “I AM.” For this answer, He was put to death by His own people, sentenced by the Roman procurator. At the top of Calvary, the crowd asked the followers of Jesus: “Where is your God?” On the third day Jesus answered their question. But He gave this answer only to His followers.

Why, after His Resurrection, did the Risen Jesus appear only to His followers? He did so because He meant for it to be their job to answer the question of God’s presence in the world: that is, to speak and act in His Name, as one Body.

But for some days after the Ascension, the apostles and disciples weren’t sure about this great commission that Jesus had given them. They were afraid, and they locked themselves into an upper room. It wasn’t a coincidence that it was the same upper room where He had given them on Holy Thursday the sacrifice of His Eucharistic Body and Blood. Ten days after His Ascension, God revealed Himself in a new way: through His Holy Spirit, God bound the followers of Jesus into the Church. By the power of the Holy Spirit, God began speaking through the followers of Jesus.