ASCENSION OF THE LORD
The first reading describes the Ascension of Jesus and his promise of the Holy Spirit. In the second reading, Paul describes the meaning of the Ascension—how God raised Jesus above all earthly powers and made him Head of the Church and Lord of creation. The Gospel is the Great Commission—Jesus sending his apostles to preach the Good News to the whole world.
FIRST READING: Acts 1:1-11
In Kings 2:4-15, the prophet Elijah told his disciple Elisha that he would receive a double portion of the Holy Spirit if he saw Elijah being taken up into heaven. It came to pass; Elisha witnessed the flaming chariot take up Elijah into heaven in a whirlwind. Thus Elisha received the spirit of Elijah and proceeded on to Jericho to continue his mission.
In Acts 1:9, the disciples see Jesus being taken up into the clouds only to return to them in the Spirit in chapter 2. They are to carry on the mission of Jesus just as Elisha continued the ministry of Elijah.
This reading shows us that the Ascension of Jesus marks the end of his journey on earth and signals the beginning of a new era. The mission of the Church begins under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
SECOND READING: Ephesians 1:17-23
This is an excerpt from a prayer of thanksgiving. Paul begins by praying that all believers in Jesus will be blessed by wisdom and revelation of his ways. Then he prays that believers may be enlightened on three things: 1) hope which is rooted in the possession of the Holy Spirit; 2) the inheritance of God’s life (“glory”) as definitely assured; and 3) the tremendous power of God’s abiding presence in believers. Just as God marvelously raised Jesus from death to life in the Resurrection, so too will Christians experience radical change in their own lives. What happened to Jesus will happen to those who believe in him.
GOSPEL: Mark 16:15-20
The disciples are given the necessary means of salvation: belief in Jesus and baptism into the Christian community. They are commissioned “to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world” so that all will have a chance to be saved. While many will hear the message, not all will open their hearts to it. Mark names signs that will accompany believers that they will be blessed with empowerment to continue the healing ministry of Jesus. Their teaching ministry will be accompanied by a healing ministry. The reference to ‘picking up snakes and drinking deadly poison’ is not to be taken literally. It is a Middle Eastern form of hyperbole, a way of saying that followers of Jesus will have his power to overcome all forms of evil. They will possess a power beyond their own to enable them to cope with the hardships of life. For example, many people have been healed by the power of prayer; others have been delivered from the power of Satan; and still others have received the power of God to help them to stop drinking and be freed from the painful memories of a difficult childhood. If Ascension means being lifted up, then we need to believe in the healing power of God to lift us up when we are wounded and possessed by demons of one kind or another. Jesus’ Ascension marks the end of his life on earth and the beginning of the mission of the Church, which all of us participate in by means of our Baptism.
After the Ascension, the disciples return to Jerusalem to await the coming of the Holy Spirit. What new or fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit do you desire at this time