This Sunday in many dioceses throughout the United States, the Solemnity of the Lord’s Ascension is being celebrated. Traditionally it was observed this past Thursday, and in some places it’s still Ascension Thursday. Regardless of when the high feast day might be celebrated, its mystery and its lessons are the same.
What is this mystery? What are the lessons of this holy day? Is there any immediate lesson for us today?
After the Lord’s Resurrection, he spent time with his apostles and re-taught them the gospel since they had no context of these truths when he first spoke them. After the Resurrection, and seeing his power and glory, the apostles could now understand what the Lord was teaching and what he wanted them to do.
In this way, the Resurrected Christ was preparing the apostles to spread his saving message and his own most excellent way of love with all the nations.
After spending this sacred time with the apostolic community, the Lord took them to the Mount of Olives and ascended into glory. The Lord was returning to his eternal place at the right hand of God. But he took our human nature with him.
There, along with the all-holy splendor of his divinity, is our human nature with its body and soul. There, in his glorified body – still bearing the wounds of his Passion – is our insurance policy. There, in the glorified and marked body and soul of the Lord, is both our hope and the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise of eternal life to those who love him.
As this powerful event is happening, however, we have perhaps one of the more comical events in the early Church. As the apostles watched the Lord ascend into the heavens, an angel appeared and chastised them, saying: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?”
We can only imagine the angelic rebuke and the awkward reaction of the apostles. The holy men are literally watching the Son of God ascend into glory – can we think of anything more majestic? – and yet the angel is giving them a good kick on the backside and telling them: Why are you just standing around here? Get to work!
The angelic salutation is an interesting one.
There’s no “Hail, Full of Grace” or “Be not afraid” in this greeting. The angel gets to business. While the apostles are in Jerusalem for the Ascension and they’ve been commissioned to go out into the whole world, the angel greets them as “men of Galilee.” Namely, they’re not allowed to forget where they’ve come from or where they first met the Lord.
As Galilee was the beginning of the Lord’s proclamation of the kingdom, so these “men of Galilee” are now called to stop “looking in the sky” and begin spreading the Lord’s kingdom throughout the nations.
In a sense, therefore, the world will become a spiritual Galilee and these “men of Galilee” will make it so. In this light, the angel tells them – as the Lord is ascending in the background – “Now, go! Do what he told you!”
As we celebrate the Ascension and sacramentally see the Lord ascend to glory, this same angelic exhortation is given to each of us. Rather than a wallflower or mere bystander, we are called to “go and teach all nations.” We are likewise summoned to spread the Lord’s kingdom throughout the world.
Darkness breeds silence, isolation, and fear. The gospel message of the Risen Christ offers us a joyful voice, community, and hope. As we allow ourselves to see God’s providence shining through the Resurrection, we find a new awareness of God’s presence in our lives and in the world around us. As we see his light in our world, we sense a drive within us to become active instruments for this light and for the love, care, and selfless service that flows from it.
As we see God’s goodness, the false sense of powerlessness within us toward darkness is stripped away. We see the pressing invitation for us to share the message of light and goodness to all the world and so become an active part in the Lord’s own saving mission. In this way, the angel says to our own hearts what he once said to the apostles, stop “looking in the sky” as if we have no purpose or mandate.
Fan into flame the graces you have received. Know God’s saving love. And now, go, share it!