The Ascension of the Lord (Lk 24:46-53)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.
For these past six weeks of Easter, we have heard the stories of Jesus’ appearances to the disciples after his resurrection. Today we hear the story of the last of those appearances.
In each of these prior encounters, Jesus prepared the disciples for the time when he would no longer physically be with them on Earth. He continued to teach them to love and forgive one another and commanded them to love as he loved. In today’s gospel, Jesus makes his final preparations for the Father. Just as parting friends swap addresses, Jesus promises to stay in touch with his friends and to send them the power they will need to remember him. He knows the tough road ahead for the disciples and wants them to believe that they have the power to preach his word.
During his ministry, the disciples had grown very close to Jesus. They shared meals, traveled and prayed together. They experienced first-hand the love that we will all experience in heaven. They had experienced God’s healing power of love and forgiveness and had witnessed God’s life-giving power over death and sin.
Pope Benedict XVI wrote that “it would be a mistake to understand the Ascension as the temporary absence of Christ from our world. Rather, we go to heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus.” Each of us can go to Jesus – in essence, achieve “heaven on Earth” – when we love as Jesus loved and forgive as Jesus forgave. What we call heaven is Jesus himself.