"Gladden us with holy joys, almighty God" the Collect for the Ascension of the Lord begins "and make us rejoice with devout thanksgiving, for the Ascension of Christ your Son is our exaltation, and where the head has gone before in glory, the Body is called to follow in hope."
The Easter Season is coming to a close and as it nears its end we commemorate the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven. The Ascension is the completion of the promise that was made to us on Easter that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, destroying the final enemy and in doing so prepared a place for us in heaven.
However, the Ascension is also a reminder for us that we are not meant to just spend our time on earth waiting in hope for a promise of heaven. In the First Reading we hear one account of Jesus' Ascension. In it Jesus is asked if He is about to restore the kingdom of Israel. Rather than saying yes, He reminds His Apostles that it is not for them to know and then he tells them about the coming of the Holy Spirit, but he also mentions something very important for us now: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
While we are on this earth we, like the Apostles, have an important mission, to be witnesses for Christ to the ends of the earth. The Gospel for the day gives us more of an insight into what we are called to proclaim: "… Christ is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations…" To be a witness for Christ is to a witness to repentance and forgiveness. That means that we are called to extent forgiveness to others by working to heal the brokenness around us. However, it also means that we need to be willing to repent and seek forgiveness. Making time for the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a wonderful opportunity to seek and be given the forgiveness of God through His priest. It is a wonderful opportunity to put into action in each of our own lives the forgiveness and mercy of God that we are called to proclaim to everyone.
While the Ascension is a time to think about being witnesses for Christ on earth, it is also a reminder that that while we should not passively wait for heaven, heaven is our hoped for destiny. The Prayer After Communion reminds us that while we are on this earth, we hope for total union with the Trinity in heaven: "Almighty and everlasting God, who allow those on earth to celebrate divine mysteries, grant, we pray, that Christian hope may draw us onward to where our nature is united with you."
The Ascension is not the end of the story. In the First Reading and Gospel we hear the promise of the sending of the Holy Spirit. It would have been easy for the Apostles to be despondent, to despair, if Jesus just left them. However, Jesus knew them and He knows us. He knows that we cannot be effective witnesses without help, and that help is the Holy Spirit.
The Ascension is a reminder for us all that we have a place for us in heaven, but while we are here on earth we are not abandoned.
Rebecca Spellacy is the Associate Director of Liturgy for the Office of Formation for Discipleship in the Archdiocese of Toronto.