Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
[In the Archdioceses and Dioceses within the Ecclesiastical Provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, and Philadelphia, the Ascension of the Lord always falls on Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter and is a holy day of obligation, however in most Archdioceses and Dioceses, the Solemnity of the Ascension is celebrated on a Sunday. We provide you with two different reflections.]
While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly, two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why are you standing looking at the sky?’
This account of the Ascension calls us back to our Jewish roots, the High Holy Days: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. In Jewish mysticism, blowing the ram’s horn on Rosh Hashanah recalls the faith of Abraham. You remember the story; we read it at the Easter Vigil. To test his faith, God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. But just as Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, God stopped him. God rewarded Abraham’s faith by promising that he would become the father of a great nation. Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. He took it and sacrificed it in place of his son. The blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn, is meant to remind God of Abraham’s faith and his unique, intimate relationship with the Jewish people. Its sound assures the Jewish people of God’s love, mercy, and compassion as they are ready to confess their sins on Yom Kippur ten days later.
Tradition named the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur “The Days of Awe.” These are the ten days when Jews are in profound and intimate conversation with God like Abraham was on Mount Moriah. Sukkot, celebrated five days after Yom Kippur, concludes the Days of Awe by bringing the community back down to earth; they eat outdoors with their feet planted on the ground. Sukkot calls them back to earth, purified and renewed. They’ve been in heaven.
Beginning with our mystical Liturgies of Holy Week and continuing for fifty days after Easter, we’ve been remembering, and entering into, Christ’s Paschal Mystery – his life, death, and resurrection. We’ve baptized new members into his mystery and renewed our immersion into Christ. The message of the two men dressed in white garments calls the Christian community back down to earth. We’ve been in heaven long enough. It’s time to get to work, to plant our feet firmly on the ground. We have a mission to take up. We have to give sight to the blind, cure the crippled, cleanse the lepers, open the ears of the deaf, raise the dead, and preach the Good News to the poor. We have to wash each other’s feet. We have to break the bread of our lives for one another.
Don’t be afraid. Pentecost is a few days away. We’ll be anointed from above.
Come, Lord Jesus, send us your Spirit; ignite the fire of your love within us. Use us to renew the face of the earth.