Ascension of the Lord

Ascension of the Lord

Thu, 21 May 20 Lectio Divina - Year A

(Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Mt 28:16-20)

We celebrate the Ascension of the Lord to heaven and the Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit with ten days gap or two following Sundays. Regarding biblical references to these events we come across separate stories in some books of the Bible or one single story in some books of the Bible! 

Once a Jewish Rabbi was sharing about the different reactions when he tells a story to European and Jewish (Asian) audiences. While the Europeans at the end of the story will immediately ask where and when exactly it happened, a Jew will ask what is the meaning or significance of the story. We all have become semi westerners. Stories are meaning bearing symbols if we lose the meaning, the symbols die. Then we are dealing with dead bodies. Bible comes from Jewish culture which is part of Asian culture and this is applicable when we listen to biblical accounts especially an event like the ascension of the Lord! There is a saying: “When somebody points his finger to the star he is only a fool who will go on look at the tip of the finger.” 

Today if we listen to the passage about the ascension in Acts of the Apostles and ask the same questions of the Europeans: when and where it happened? But the original readers with a Jewish cultural background will ask ‘what is the real significance of this story?’ When the teachers have given work or exercise and if they find the students are struggling to get the lead or lost not showing the sign of getting into action the teachers make a reproaching question why do you sit looking up? When we find somebody who does not understand the real sense of the thing happening we make use of similar reproaching expressions in most of our local languages:  Why do you open your mouth and sit?  Why are you looking up and standing?

Angel makes use of this expression to disciples after the ascension scene! “Men of Galilee,” they said “Why are you standing here staring into heaven? (Acts 1:11).

Probably today we are also asked the same question as we reflect on the ascension of the Lord! Unfortunately our catechism is only on chronology and historicity and not about its profound significance! We are happy once we can convince that Jesus has ascended the Holy Spirit has come! We are a product of a culture in which we have identified truth with a simple question whether it has happened or not. All our energy is spent to prove that it has happened! 

The best analogy for the life of Jesus and his ministry from the Old Testament is the life and ministry of Elijah and Elisha. It is also true when we try to understand the profound significance of the Ascension of the Lord.  

As Elijah was ascending his disciple or successor Elisha repeatedly made three times a compelling statement: ‘as surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you!” (cf. 2 kings 2:2, 4, 6). Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you before I am taken from you.” And Elisha responded, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.” 

Sometimes we too personalize the Holy Spirit and lose the profoundness of the simple but profound meaning of the handing over of the spirit of Jesus at the ascension of the Lord! In the liturgical readings of last week from the gospel of John the emphasis is not just on the personal character of the Holy Spirit but Jesus’ insistence that it is his spirit.  Ascension is meaningful when we take on that spirit to carry forward in the world the presence and mission and ministry of Jesus to become his true disciples and successors.

Just Elijah did to Elisha Jesus before leaving or handing over his spirit covers us with his mantle and passes it on to us (1 Kings 19:19; 2 Kings 2:13). The mantle has a set of meanings – covering, responsibility, function, protection. This part is common in all the accounts of ascension found in Acts of Apostles, synoptic gospels, and the farewell message of Jesus in John.  

On this Ascension Day we are asked to continue the story of the good news of our Lord with a double spirit!  This is the moment of passing on of the mantle of Jesus .This is passing on of the spirit of Jesus 

If we follow the version of Mark it also tells the effect on the disciples and the precise power of the spirit that is handed over to the disciples (Mk 16:15-18). They will cast out demons, speak new languages, can pick up serpents or deadly poisons but not harmed and they lay hands on the sick they will be healed.  

  1. ‘Cast out demons’ – possession is not the problem of few. It can be anger, hatred, jealousy… anything which can possess us 
  2. ‘Speaking new languages’ – when do we need a new language it is when in our old language we are not able to communicate – when we are not able to communicate it is when we are possessed by the ego like the story of the tower of Babel.
  3. Pick up serpents - a symbol of evil – you have overcome that evil with Jesus – tempter who wanted us to pick up the attitude or culture of grabbing. 
  4. Deadly poisons – anger, jealousy, - negative emotions – keeping anger inside is like taking poison inside hoping that our enemy will die! 
  5. Lay hands on the sick – there is a difference between disease and illness – what people require is grace – the disease is biomedical malfunctioning while illness is socio-cultural malfunctioning. Illness is much more worst than disease. Illness is removed when we accept reality. We say that change into resistance is Suffering while change into surrender is grace. When we lay hands on others we pass on the spirit to accept and surrender to God’s will and effect is grace. 

On the occasion of ascension we are given the double share of the spirit of Jesus and are asked to share the good news of Jesus. On this feast of Ascension just as Elijah said to Elisha, Jesus is asking us “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” And we have to take the attitude of Elisha and our response should be, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor!”