Solemnity of the Ascension
18 May 2020
Richard E. McCarron, PhD

First Reading: Acts 1:1-11
Responsorial Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Second Reading: Ephesians 1:17-23
Gospel: Matthew. 28:16-20

We are drawing close to the end of the great Fifty Days of Easter. The Ascension marks the movement toward our grand finale of the Feast of Pentecost. We started this season with the women at the tomb seeking Jesus and becoming bewildered (Matt 28:5). We heard of the disciples on the road to Emmaus appearing downtrodden (Luke 24:17). We might see that scene in our imaginations with their heads bent and looking down—until they beheld the Risen One in the breaking of the word and the bread. We come now to the apostles being asked, “Why are you looking up?” (Acts 1:11). Throughout these weeks of readings and in our texts today, we have a continual unfolding of the meaning of the resurrection.

Our liturgical cycle always intersects with other seasons, and this year we unexpectedly encounter a new season of COVID-19. Perhaps the liturgical cycle can be prophetic and speak to our disrupted daily calendars and help us map a route in light of the resurrection.

The disciples were surely looking for a route forward. Their questions arise when they are assembled with Jesus (Acts 1:6). Their questions could be summed up: When are you going to restore the brokenness to wholeness you promised? And Jesus gives them a reason for detours: “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons” (Acts 1:6-7). Jesus assures them that something more is ahead. He gave them and us the promise of the gift of the Spirit to guide us in all things.

In the continual unfolding of the resurrection story, we hear from our second reading:

And he put all things beneath his feet
and gave him as head over all things to the church,
which is his body,
the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way. (Eph 1:23)

Here we get some directions for our journey: If you are seeking me, look in front of you. Seek me in bodies under siege from disease. Find me jailed at the borders, under attack by race hatred and violence. Look for me among those who are unemployed, stressed, and anxious. I am found behind a mask, demonstrating care for others especially those most vulnerable. Don’t look down! I am living anew in connections and reconnections that emerge under stay-at-home directives; in long walks and in attentiveness to the wonder and fierce beauty of the world around us.

Yet, the gospel tells us there is more to do. Look forward: Go testify in a sure and certain promise. “Tell the world about Jesus, tell them about his love!” (African American Heritage Hymnal, no. 633, anonymous). Go tell of my deeds through your words, actions, and commitments. We have things to do!

We do this all with promise and hope: Jesus says, “I am with you always, until the end of the ages” (Matt 28:30). I am with you in joy and pain, the struggle and the celebration of all the little moments! He promises the Holy Spirit will abide with us. When the Ascension was observed on the fortieth day, it gave rise to a novena leading to the great feast of Pentecost. Perhaps in the coming week, we can pray for the Spirit to come and abide with us and to renew us.

I have been through all these movements in this time of intersecting seasons. I have tried to find ways to comfort and care. I have gotten rather downtrodden. I am trying to keep looking forward, even if I might stumble. The Ascension reminds us all to keep looking forward in hope. He is with us until the end of the age. Let us make faith, hope, and love our GPS — even if life takes our journeys on detours and we need it to recalculate to keep moving forward!

Richard E. McCarron, PhD
Associate Professor of Liturgy