Ascension Year C Lectio divina on Lk 24, 46-53
Luke concludes his gospel with a kind of testament of the Risen Lord to his disciples. Before finally leaving the earth to sit close to God, he leaves them well prepared. He explains what is happening in the light of the Scriptures, he assigns them a mission to preach conversion to the world, and he renews the promise of the Spirit. Jesus leaves his disciples well instructed and he leaves them something that gave meaning to their lives – his own Spirit and a universal mission. The blessing of Jesus as he departs fills the time of waiting with joy and with prayer. The disciples do not feel orphaned by their Lord, even though they lose sight of him. They are waiting for the gift he promised, his Spirit. They live in joy and they know what they have to do. They are to remain in Jerusalem waiting for the promised Spirit to come upon them, before they set out for the world …
The absence of Jesus does not weigh upon them while they await the coming of his Spirit. This is the time to preach to all creatures. For some of them, working for Christ will be the motive for waiting for the Spirit. He has left the world in our hands, but he has not left us alone and he has not left us with nothing to do.
46 At that time, Jesus said to his disciples, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high.” 50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.
I. READ: UNDERSTAND WHAT THE TEXT IS SAYING, FOCUSING ON HOW IT SAYS IT.
Luke’s account of the Ascension of Jesus describes two consequences that necessarily follow from it – the physical disappearance of Jesus when he went up to heaven, and the mission of the disciples when they received the promised Spirit. The Risen Jesus left his disciples orphaned but not idle, and he left them filled with hope. The time that begins with the Ascension of Jesus is a time of abandonment and emptiness that is filled, with the witness that is their mission, and with the Spirit who is their strength for the journey.
The version given by Luke is made up of a discourse and a narrative. It contains three distinct affirmations. 1. What has happened is the fulfilment of a promise: Scripture has already foretold God’s plan, which is now being fulfilled before the eyes of the disciples. 2. Now is the time to bear witness, but they still lack the power from on high. The mission will begin when the Spirit comes. 3. While Jesus is blessing those he leaves behind – the very last thing he does on earth – he blesses them and they bless God. Although orphaned by their Lord, the disciples feel happy, filled with joy and full of God, overflowing with blessings.
As we live waiting for the Lord’s final coming, we know that he is far away from us and seated in glory with God.
Why is it that today’s Christian community does not feel blessed by God and prompted to bless God in return?
The appointment as witnesses is the last command given by the glorified Jesus, his final testament. The disciples cannot consider their apostolic mission as something they choose freely or as a personal project. Before carrying out their mission, the disciples must first be filled with the Spirit. Jesus does not seem to be in a hurry to start evangelizing the world!
While they wait, before they become witnesses, they are to bless God and know that they are blessed by God.
II. MEDITATION: apply what the text says to life
Do we realize that when we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus we are celebrating his absence from the world? By going up to heaven, Jesus brought to a conclusion his time on earth. After deciding to be born and to grow up as a human being, after living on earth and preaching the Kingdom, after choosing to die for all people, and letting himself be seen by some, who were chosen by him, Jesus now decided to cut himself off from them and leave them alone in the world. It is something of a surprise that we Christians celebrate as a great feast the day when Jesus cut himself off from his disciples, depriving them of his company and his consolation. What is there to be happy about on the day when the Christian community lost sight of the One they loved most, and were left without the One they needed most? Why do we remember this day, especially nowadays, when the departure of Jesus from the world has developed into an absence that has lasted two thousand years?
Is it not true, that what we, the disciples of today, experience of Christ is the sense of his absence? Is it not true that what Christians perceive in today’s world is his absence? We feel abandoned by God, and not without reason. It seems that he has little interest in our affairs and in this world of ours. What use is Christ’s being in heaven with God, when we are far away from him here on earth? Feeling the absence of God in our world, and suffering because we are separated from him might indeed cause us to lose heart. It had exactly the opposite effect on the disciples who saw Jesus disappearing up to heaven, but went back to Jerusalem with great joy. When Jesus left his disciples, he blessed them, and he left them blessing God. They made up for the loss of Jesus with joy and prayer.
This is a characteristic of Christian life – to know that God is a far way from our earth and yet not to fear being abandoned by him. From the beginning of the Church, the disciples of the Risen Lord felt alone in this world but did not complain about being abandoned. Christians do not have a God on earth. We do not keep God always at hand’s reach, but we can reach him in our hearts. Feeling his absence is the best way to remember him with greater intensity. The more we suffer on account of his distance from us, the more we desire his presence. If we are aware of his absence, we will prepare all the more for his coming. The disciple knows that he will not meet his Lord in this world, because he knows that the Lord has gone before him to heaven. He does not lose hope that he will see him again, because he knows that he is waiting for him in heaven.
And since he is there interceding for us, we can be sure that we have not been altogether abandoned. Jesus has left us, and we miss him, but we know he is with God where he intercedes for us and for our concerns. If that is the way it is, then as soon as we become aware of this separation, we will feel all the more the absence of Christ in our world. Our pain at his absence will reawaken in us the memory of Christ and the certainty that he is with God, interceding for us. The Christian does not lose hope of one day meeting his Lord, just because Christ has abandoned him for a little while. The Christian who is alone in the world and left to face his problems alone, knows that he is not lost because he has not lost his Lord. If Christ is not with us during our life on earth, it is because he is keeping watch for us with God.
When he returned to God, Jesus did not leave us orphans. He left us busy with the task of representing him in the world that is suffering, even if it does not admit it, on account of his absence. “You shall be my witnesses” Jesus said to his disciples before he left the earth. Jesus looks after our interests in God’s presence, and makes sure that God is concerned about them. He has left us the task of looking after God’s interests in the world. The Christian should not complain about God’s absence since it is not definitive, but should live in the world representing God’s interests. While God has not yet returned to be present in the world, while his will and his kingdom are not yet a reality among us and within us, we have the duty to act as his substitutes, making him present in our world, to be men and women who live as reminders to the world that God’s absence is only apparent. For as long as he remains distant from the world, God needs believers who will make him present, living according to his will and bearing witness to his demands.
The absence of God from our world is really oppressive, not because Jesus has left us, but because his disciples are far from being his witnesses, who rely on him since he is already close to God, conscious that we have in heaven an Intercessor who cares for us. We ought to return with faith to the mission he left us. The world will not forget him, and our society will not forget him, if we carry out the mission he has left us, in a world where people are more concerned about things that matter little to God, and where many are forgetting him. Our life as believers is a lonely one, because we are unable to discover the many faces of God in what is happening around us. Our great weakness is our failure to recognize the signs of God’s presence in our world. We are not concerned about making God present in our world, and we also fail to notice that many around us have given up on God. This is not a time for us to feel abandoned, when there are so many around us in need of encouragement. It is not the time to add to God’s silence in the world but rather a time to bear witness to him.
To make us better able to carry out our task of bearing witness to him, we have been promised a power from on high, the Spirit of Jesus himself. His physical absence does not mean that the world is deprived of his Spirit. Those who have the task of making him present in the world will feel the force of his inner power. This is why the first Christians were able to feel happy when Jesus left them. He left them a difficult mission and his inner power. We will not feel orphans in the world, if we feel in our heart the power of his Spirit.
Joy and a life of prayer are the fruits of those who hope in the Spirit of Jesus, and we can expect these fruits since he has promised them.
The Spirit of Jesus is in the hearts of those who are still in the world, if they spend their days in witnessing and in prayer. The task that Jesus has left us is to live our lives today as a reminder to the world that he has not abandoned our world. He is still interested in us. He is close to God where he can help us more, He is preparing a future for us, in the place where he is about to arrive. If we take all this seriously, it will help us to overcome our difficulties. Jesus has not left us alone. We have a task to do. We have his Spirit and we have hope. The world is waiting for us, and even though it does not say so, it is waiting for a reason to live, and a strength to live by. Before he went away, the Lord left us his Spirit and he left us hope. We must not lose his two parting gifts!