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Posted by on May 29, 2022

A New Act Begins – The Ascension

A New Act Begins – The Ascension

Forty days after Jesus rose from the dead, another milestone event occurred – he ascended to his Father, to heaven. We celebrate this event today – the Solemnity of the Ascension.

Historically, the Ascension occurred on the 40th day after the Resurrection. That would have been a Thursday. Until recently, it was celebrated on a Thursday, Ascension Thursday! It was a holy day of obligation (when everybody was supposed to attend Mass) and we had a school holiday to celebrate it. However, our modern way of life and secular society model in the United States didn’t recognize this religious feast as a reason to cancel ordinary activities, so relatively few people were easily able to gather for Mass. The decision was made to move the feast to the Seventh Sunday of Easter, the one just before Pentecost. This is where we have arrived this weekend.

Two of our readings this day tell the story of the Ascension. We begin with the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, written in around 75 A.D. “In the first book, Theophilus …” St. Luke addressed both of his account of the life of Jesus and that of the early church to Theophilus. The name Theophilus means “God’s friend.” It is equally important to remember that as we are God’s friends, it is also addressed to us.

A time period of 40 days, weeks, months, or years is also important in the Bible. Many things happened in 40 days or years, including the great flood during Noah’s time, the 40 years of traveling in the desert between Egypt and Palestine after the Exodus, the 40 days of Jesus’ fasting in the desert between his baptism and the beginning of his public ministry. This is a time of preparation for something that will be different, something better and long promised or awaited. Something new.

Jesus appeared many times to his friends during the 40 days following the Resurrection. He simply appeared in their midst. He didn’t come and go, knocking on doors and waiting for someone to let him in. The door was locked, but he was suddenly there among them. Then, just as suddenly, he was gone. They met him in the garden. They met him on the road to Emmaus. He joined them in the locked upper room where he had eaten that last supper with them. They met him at the seashore in Galilee.

The last time they met, he told them to remain together in Jerusalem and wait for the “promise of the Father” when they would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (The word baptize means to be plunged into something.) Clueless as ever, the disciples asked Jesus when he planned to restore the kingdom to Israel. When would Israel again become an independent and mighty world power?

Jesus sidestepped the question of restoration of an earthly kingdom and spoke of the more important kingdom, that of the Father. “It is not for you to know the times or seasons…” The promise for which they are to wait is the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will empower them to become Jesus’ witnesses in all the land, even to “the ends of the earth.”

Once again, Jesus is taken from their sight after these words. This time, he is lifted up and a cloud “took him from their sight.” Many images show him standing on a cloud as if on an elevator arising into the sky. The text doesn’t tell us how it happened. Just that it happened. Two men dressed in white clothing appeared among them and promised that Jesus would one day return in the same way they had seen him leave. These words have been the basis for other images of the Second Coming which depict a victorious Jesus returning to Earth for a final judgement. They also led the early Christian communities to expect a relatively rapid return of Jesus and the end of days. After all, he had been coming and going a lot during the preceding 40 days!

St. Luke’s Gospel (24:46-53) tells of the same event, in a more compact manner. Luke tells us that after Jesus had blessed his friends and been taken up to heaven, they “did him homage” and then returned rejoicing to Jerusalem. There they spent their days in the temple praising God.

Two options are offered for the second reading on the Feast of the Ascension. Each is lovely in and of itself. Parishes have a choice which to include in the day’s liturgy. Here a few thoughts about each.

The reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (1:17-23) is a lovely prayer of blessing that comes at the beginning of a letter which very well might have been written for sharing with several of the early Christian communities founded by Paul. According to tradition, it was written while he was a prisoner in Rome.

Paul asks that God give the many gifts of the Spirit to Christians who receive these greetings he is sending. “A Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.” He asks that our eyes be enlightened to see and hope in the great riches of glory offered and promised to those who believe.

This is a beautiful statement of the wonders of God’s identity and promise of blessing in and through our lives of faith. All is possible because of the great might he worked in Christ, raising him from death and placing him as head over all of creation. Christ is the head and his body is the church – all of us in the community of Christians.

What an amazing vision and blessing for all of us!

The second possible reading is from the letter to the Hebrews (9:24-28, 10:19-23). In this reading the focus is on Jesus’ role as the high priest who offered the sacrifice that could bring final reconciliation and healing of the rift between God and all humanity. This sacrifice does not ever have to be re-done. It was a one-and-done event, unlike the annual sacrifice offered by the high priest once each year at the temple in Jerusalem.

No matter how badly we mess up, no one has to be sacrificed again to reconcile us with God. All we need to do is turn back to God in confidence that his love and forgiveness are unchanging. God’s promise is trustworthy.

Also an amazing blessing.

We know that the Second Coming didn’t happen right away. But the coming of the Holy Spirit did. Ten days later, on the Feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples with a sound like a mighty wind and tongues as of fire. Their hearts and minds were fired with the experience of the Spirit of God, the Holy Breath of God. And a new act in salvation history began. The public witness and sharing of the Good News of Salvation burst onto the world scene, beginning in Jerusalem

Today, however, we celebrate the promise. We anticipate the mystery to come. We recognize the puzzlement of the disciples, who really had no clue what was happening or why. We rejoice in the promise and blessing of the Holy Spirit living among us and of the great honor and gift of being part of Christ’s body.

So, how to celebrate? This is an important feast. Important enough for it to be moved from its usual spot to a Sunday, so we can take time to enjoy it.

Food traditions can be fun. Some ideas I’ve come across are in our Theologika website here: https://theologika.net/ofs-other-fun-stuff/feast-of-the-ascension/

I like to make orange meringue pie. Just use a regular lemon meringue pie recipe, but substitute orange juice. It doesn’t need quite as much sugar as a lemon one does and has a lovely flavor. I might just do that this year!

What will you do?

Whatever you decide to do, be sure to celebrate this day. Pray today and during the coming week for the Holy Spirit to come into your life in a special way as well. This is a time to open our hearts ever more deeply to receive Love. And next week, set aside time for Pentecost… Amazing things can happen!

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Posted by on Jun 4, 2019

Ascension and Rituals of Farewell

Ascension and Rituals of Farewell

“Parting is such sweet sorrow,” Shakespeare wrote. We have a chance to contemplate what that means as we celebrate Jesus’ leave-taking, also known as The Ascension of the Lord. We certainly can relate at this time of year with so many goodbyes happening. Graduates are saying goodbye to the schools that have educated them as they look forward to new and exciting experiences in high school, college, graduate school, or a career. Parents are saying goodbye to the young people they’ve protected, supported, and guided at home, watching them start their own lives.

Each goodnight prayer and kiss is a promise to your children that your love stays with them through the night, just as God’s love stays with them through life. Goodnight and goodbye rituals are important for the development of spiritual strength and faith.  They teach us that there is a connection between the loved and lover that doesn’t end when one is invisible to the other.

The words goodbye, adieu, and adios all mean “God be with you.” They are words of blessing that commit another person to the care of God. Jesus exemplifies this power of blessing when he greets his disciples in Galilee after the Resurrection. He assures them of his presence as he directs them to “go and make disciples of all nations.” His final words are clear and powerful: “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Matthew’s Gospel ends with these words.

“I am with you always.” This is what a child knows when parent kisses or signs her with a cross at night or when leaving for school. It’s what is understood by a friend’s hug, a blown kiss, or hands waving. One of our family rituals involves standing on the curb waving until the people leaving have disappeared around the corner, taking our blessings and presence with them.

The final blessing at Mass is the liturgy’s goodbye. The words empower us to go forth and make disciples of nations, to be God’s peace in the world, to serve and love one another. The words acknowledge that between the entrance and dismissal rites, God has been present to us in a wonderful and mysterious way, and we are now being commissioned to do what we gathered to do. Poised at the threshold of the church, we are ready to bring Christ into the world. Everything we have experienced at Mass – our gathering, listening to the Word, and coming to the Table – has prepared us for this moment of departure.

Let’s try to acknowledge the importance of those last moments of Mass by paying attention, listening to the words of the final blessing, and taking them into our hearts. Jesus’ promise to his disciples that he would be with them always is our promise too. Let’s receive that promise with gratitude and pass it on to others, letting each “goodbye” become a promise of our love and presence.

God be with you.

Public domain image – Ascension of Christ

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Posted by on May 29, 2014

Savoring the Feast of the Ascension

Savoring the Feast of the Ascension

 

The Feast of the Ascension is traditionally celebrated on the 10th day before Pentecost. In many places these days it is celebrated on the Sunday before Pentecost so more people can attend Mass.

On this day we remember and celebrate the day, forty days after the Resurrection, that Jesus was taken into heaven, hidden from the disciples’ sight by a cloud. (Acts 1:9) Following His instructions, they returned to Jerusalem and spent the next days in prayer, until the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost.

One traditional way to celebrate the Ascension is to go fishing. Why? An ancient symbol by which Christians identified themselves and each other was a fish. The Greek letters that spelled fish (ΙΧΘΥΣ – ICHTHYS) could also be taken as the first letters for the words, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.

Going fishing is not always possible, however, so another way to celebrate is through a festive meal. A fish pie is a special treat.

Fish Pie

Ingredients:

Pie crust for a two crust pie.

Sauce:

3 Tbsp. margarine or butter
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Cup water
1/4 Cup white wine or light fruit juice
1/4 Cup onion, minced
1 Tbsp. parsley
Balsamic vinegar to taste (optional)
Salt, pepper, chili powder, thyme, tarragon, savory to taste

Filling:

Tuna or other canned or fresh fish
Potatoes
Vegetables: Carrots, Green Beans, Peas, Corn or others liked by your family

Saute the onion in the melted margarine or butter. Add the cornstarch and stir. Add water and wine. Stir frequently as the mixture heats and thickens. Add the spices and mix well. When the sauce has thickened, add fish, boiled, cubed potatoes, and steamed vegetables.

Put the filling into an unbaked pie crust and cover with a top crust. If desired, cut a fish and some “rays of glory” into the top crust for venting.

Bake at 400º for 35-40 minutes until golden brown.

Serve the pie hot, with a nice salad, a bit of sparkling cider, juice or wine, and a light dessert for a special family celebration of the Ascension.

 

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