You will be my witnesses!
When we recite the Nicene Creed at Mass, we state our belief in the Ascension of the Lord:
“…He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end….”
Jesus’ Ascension into heaven might seem remote to us, something hard for us to relate to or understand. Pope Benedict XVI addressed this matter in his epilogue to his second volume on “Jesus of Nazareth.” That book, subtitled, “Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection,” closes with the pope offering a beautiful reflection on the meaning of the Ascension of the Lord.
Pope Benedict writes, “The departing Jesus does not make his way to some distant star. He enters into communion of power and life with the living God, into God’s dominion over space. Hence he has not ‘gone away,’ but now and forever by God’s own power he is present with us and for us.”
With that perspective in mind, our understanding of the Lord’s last words to his disciples and his Ascension into heaven deepens.
The first reading at the Mass for the Ascension of the Lord quotes Jesus telling his disciples “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Then that passage continues, “When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight” (Acts 1:9).
The Gospel reading for that Mass includes Jesus commissioning his disciples to “go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). The Gospel later continues, “So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19).
Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always, to the close of the age,” come alive to those with faith in him. With the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus goes before us always. We can encounter the risen Lord through the word of God, through the Eucharist, through the sacraments, and in each other, as witnesses of the Lord through our acts of love and charity. Jesus’ great commission to the first disciples is his call to us, to live and share our faith with the world.
The Ascension of the Lord should remind us in a special way of our call to carry out the work of the New Evangelization even when doing so is difficult. In a culture that is increasingly hostile to the exercise of religious faith, particularly in the public square, the Solemnity of the Ascension reminds us that Christ is with us and goes before us always. Indeed, when we pray the Rosary, the spiritual fruit of meditation on the Mystery of the Ascension is victory.
As God was with those who first accepted the challenge, ‘You will be my witnesses’ (Acts 1:8), so God is with us as we accept the summons to be witnesses today in all that we say and do.