This depiction of the Ascension is found in St. Joseph Church, Keyport, part of Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Keyport. The Solemnity will be observed in the Trenton Diocese on May 13. File photo
This depiction of the Ascension is found in St. Joseph Church, Keyport, part of Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Keyport. The Solemnity will be observed in the Trenton Diocese on May 13. File photo
Gospel reflection for May 16, 2021, the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

At a very specific moment – St. Luke tells us 40 days – Jesus stopped appearing to his disciples. The period of time that they needed for preparation for their ministry was at an end and it was time for them to begin the work for which they had been called.

Jesus could not remain with them in the same way that he had been with them during his earthly ministry and through the appearances he made to them after his Resurrection. On one level his Ascension is a pragmatic event – the disciples had to disperse and spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. On another, and of course more theological level, Jesus had to ascend from where he had descended. The Son had to return to the Father and take his place at the Father’s right hand. Now that the work of the Son had been accomplished through the Paschal events, the work of the Church must now commence.

As the disciples experienced this final appearance of Jesus they begin preaching immediately. And while they have been able to convince some that Jesus is the messiah and Lord, they are still unable to go about their work since they have yet to receive the Holy Spirit. It will be another 10 days before the Holy Spirit will descend upon them and that time will surely be spent in prayer, conversation and profound personal reflection.

They still do not know all of what lies before them. They prepare for what is to come by choosing Matthias as a successor to Judas Iscariot, believing that the mystical number of 12 must be in place. This was Peter’s decision, and not a task that was given to them directly by Jesus. In addition, the 12 Apostles are also by other disciples, including the women who accompanied them, some of the relatives of Jesus, and of course, Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

The liturgical year, following the insight of the Synoptic Gospels, plays out the totality of the Paschal events over the course of 50 days. This insight is essential in that it not only presents the gradual unfolding of these events, it also shows the need of the disciples to grow into their understanding of what has happened to Jesus, what has happened to them, and to prepare for what is about to happen in their lives, if that is even possible.

The Ascension of Jesus is further testimony to them, and a sign to us, of the meaning of the Incarnation and the power of the Resurrection.

This final encounter between the disciples and the Resurrected One, is incomplete until the Pentecost event where the Holy Spirit will be made manifest in and through them. As we will see in the Pentecost moment, that while the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the apostles – and subsequently to the Church – this too is incomplete as we await the Parousia to bring to conclusion the God’s plan for creation.

The Ascension, while a significant moment, is primarily a transitional one. The disciples seem to think that it is at that moment when Jesus would restore the Kingdom of Israel and that he would then reign from there. We are not sure what they thought their role would be within that kingdom, but certainly they knew that Jesus was preparing them for something. As of this moment, they are now sure that they are to proclaim Jesus as being raised from the dead, as having ascended to the Father, and that he will return. Of course, it seems that they expected this all to happen during their own lifetimes. The reality that they will experience their own martyrdom, and that what lies before them was not the success of this world but the preparation for the world to come, has yet to be fully understood by them.

The Ascension of Jesus reminds us, the Church, that like the Apostles we are waiting. We wait, not for the coming of the Holy Spirit, but rather for the Parousia, when Jesus returns, the dead are raised, and the Kingdom is manifest in all of its eternal splendor.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.