After his suffering [Jesus] presented himself alive to [the apostles] by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day's journey away. —Acts 1:3–12 (NRSV)
Jesus ascends into heaven. The disciples stare blankly into the sky. What in the world just happened? And what in the world does this mean?
The beauty of the Feast of the Ascension lies in the details. First, Jesus ascended to heaven with his glorified body bearing the marks of crucifixion as he took his place on the throne of heaven (see John 20:24–29 for a reference to Jesus carrying his wounds in his glorified body). These wounds remind us that we have a God who understands our suffering, whom we can humbly approach with our needs, in our trials and our joys (see Hebrews 10:19–24). Our God understands, and he invites us into this throne room and sanctuary. Jesus’ bodily ascension opens the door for our bodily resurrection at the end of time. . . .
The second important detail is that Jesus will return with his glorified body in judgment. As the apostles stare at the sky as if they have just seen a double rainbow, an angel tells them that time is limited. They shouldn’t “just stand there”—they have work to do in spreading the gospel before Jesus comes again! We have work to do in inviting others to know the God who understands our sufferings and invites us into his mercy.
Plenty of daily missions go unfulfilled. Many followers of Jesus are standing around, heads in the clouds (see the reading from Acts), wondering what to do next. The apostles had an excuse, as they had not yet received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (that would happen nine days later). You’ve been baptized, however. You’ve most likely been confirmed. You’re not lacking in the Holy Spirit. . . .
So what’s your excuse? Are you out proclaiming Christ to the nations? Do others see your bold witness and seek the sacraments that bring you such confidence and joy?
Excerpted from Mark Hart’s latest book, Unleashing the Power of Scripture: A Guide for Catholics (The Word Among Us Press, 2017). Available at wau.org/books