The Ascension Reminds Us of the Story We Have to Tell

User’s Guide to Ascension Sunday

Jesus ascending to heaven by John Singleton Copley, 1775
Jesus ascending to heaven by John Singleton Copley, 1775 (photo: Public domain / Wikipedia)

Sunday, May 13, is the Solemnity of the Ascension (Boston; Hartford, Connecticut; New York; Newark, New Jersey; Philadelphia; and the state of Nebraska’s dioceses celebrate Ascension Thursday three days earlier). Mass Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9; Ephesians 1:17-23; Mark 16:15-20.

The Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord reveals the Father’s desire to be close to us.

The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles recounts St. Luke’s telling of the Ascension. Jesus instructs the apostles to stay near Jerusalem in order to “be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” They asked him if he would “restore the kingdom of Israel,” but he responded that they will not know the time, but will be empowered by the Spirit to be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth.” He then ascended into heaven.

The second reading is from the opening of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. St. Paul calls a blessing down upon the fledgling church of Ephesus. He desires that these Christians “know what is the hope that belongs to [God’s] call.” He reveals that Jesus sits at the Father’s “right hand in the heavens.”

The Gospel reading is from the very end of St. Mark’s Gospel, which also tells us of the Ascension. Our Lord’s final word to his disciples is a command: “Go out into the whole world, and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” After promising them signs to confirm their future work, he is “taken up into heaven” to sit “at the right hand of God.” The apostles then go forth and preach.

All of these readings reveal to us the radical claim of Christianity about God’s love for us.

St. Augustine once referred to the sin of Adam and Eve as a “happy fault,” saying elsewhere that the justification of man was even greater than the creation of heaven and Earth and more dazzling than the creation of the angels.

This can be so because, while before the Fall we lived in original friendship with the Lord, after the sacrifice of Jesus made necessary by that Fall, we are now offered something greater than that original friendship. In baptism we are offered adoption and participation in the very life of God.

And today’s Solemnity of the Ascension celebrates the culmination of God’s great work, for the Paschal Mystery includes not just the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, but also the Ascension. Today we recognize that Jesus’ human nature, which suffered, died and the rose from the dead, also ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God. Therefore, by virtue of the human nature we share with Christ, we, too, sit with the Father, whose love draws us closer to him.

This is why, as the Catechism tells us, we can receive “deifying grace” (1999) and why St. Peter can teach that in heaven we become partakers in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

Such good news is indeed worthy of being proclaimed “to the ends of the earth.” And so we are reminded today as well that, being the beneficiaries of such a love from God, we have the obligation to tell the world. And what a story we have to tell. We have the one true story that gives every other one meaning, namely the story of the power of sacrificial love poured out for the sake of an eternal communion.

Omar Gutierrez is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska. 

He is an instructor with Holy Family School of Faith in Omaha.