Gospel Reading: Luke 24: 46-53
Jesus said to his disciples: “you see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this. And now I am sending down to you what the Father has promised. “Stay in the city, then, until you are clothed with the power from on high.” Then he took them out as far as the outskirts of Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. Now as he blessed them, he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven. They worshipped him and then went back to Jerusalem full of joy.
Ascension Year C
In this Pentecost series of Lectio Divina we have four important Feasts – Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity and Corpus Christi. We can approach these Feasts in two ways: one would be going to the catechism and reflecting on the doctrinal meaning of the Feast; or secondly, journeying with the Word of God in scripture as given to us for these feasts and entering into an experiential appreciation of them. While both are important and ideally complement each other the Lectio way imbues the doctrine with a new vitality and vibrancy and power to give life.
Feast of the Ascension – Luke 24: 46-53
This passage marks the end of Luke’s Gospel and the gospel ends as it began in the temple in Jerusalem. Luke is writing for a community of Gentile converts to Christianity and his gospel account of the life, death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus is situated neatly and respectfully within the Jewish culture and tradition.
When did this take place?
Luke is the only evangelist who writes a sequel to his gospel. In the acts of the Apostles he gives us an account of life in the early Christian community and its missionary activity. The story of Ascension is taken up again in Acts 1. Here, the Ascension takes place 40 days after the Resurrection but in the gospel passage the resurrection appearances – to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, to Simon Peter, and then to the gathering of Apostles in the upper room – and the ascension take place on the same day: Easter Sunday. Luke and the early Christian communities have no difficulty with this apparent contradiction as both accounts communicate the same truth: Ascension marks the end of the appearances of the risen Jesus and the beginning of a new phase in the mission of the disciples.
Where did this take place?
V46-49 took place in the upper room. It was here, a few days previously, that Jesus had celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples and spoken to them of his impending death and resurrection. The Risen Jesus now stood among them and breathed his peace on
them. By showing them his hands and feet and asking for something to eat he reassured them that he was real – one and the same person who was crucified on Good Friday was now with them once more. He also explained the scriptures to them in a way that helped them make sense of what they were experiencing. V.50-53 – This took place near Bethany on the Mount of Olives. Bethany lies two miles east of Jerusalem and was an important place in the life of Jesus, a place of friendship and refuge. It was, also, from here that he began his final journey into Jerusalem.
Who was there?
The eleven disciples, now down one in the absence of Judas were assembled in the upper room. They were subsequently joined by the two Emmaus disciples and there is no reason to believe that they were not witnesses to the ascension. If one of these was a woman, as the internal evidence of scripture would seem to suggest (Cleopas and his wife), then one woman, at least, was among those commissioned by Jesus to take responsibility for the establishment of the church and its mission.
In the aftermath of the crucifixion the disciples were plunged into grief and guilt. They had let Jesus down big time – betraying him, denying him and ultimately abandoning him.. The message is repentance for the forgiveness of sins. They have just had a powerful experience of forgiveness, mercy and compassion from the risen Jesus. When the Risen Jesus came among them there was no recrimination or condemnation for their cowardice. Only compassion and mercy. Having had a profound experience of their own weakness and God’s mercy they were now ready “to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sin” to all the nations. In spite of their failing Jesus continued to believe in them and in their capacity and readiness to continue his work.
“Stay in the city” – Jesus was telling them to wait and take time to process all that had happened – to come to terms with their own grief and loss and their growing conviction that the father had raised him up and that he was now in their midst. When they would be “clothed with power from on high” – by a powerful intervention of the Spirit—they would know that it was time to move on.
In the ascension scene Jesus withdrew from the disciples with “a blessing”. He knew how to withdraw without leaving them feeling abandoned. He withdrew with love – in such a way they that knew he would always be close to them. In ascending to his Father he would allow the disciples to grow in stature, take more responsibility and develop self-confidence. They now return to Jerusalem full of joy, convinced that God’s love has been victorious in the life of Jesus, and confident that this same love is at work in them too.
From the perspective of Jesus:
When have you been, or when have a you seen, the Jesus person (teacher, counsellor, guide, friend) in the story, someone who while drawing on wisdom and experience helped others to see and understand a difficult situation in a new light, and in a way that gave hope and confidence for the future.? “He opened their minds to understand the scriptures.”
When have you been or seen a Jesus person who in spite of an experience of being let down badly by others did not give up on them but continued to believe in them, to trust in them, and to persuade them that even their past mistakes would be a source of strength going forward. “Repentance for the forgiveness of sin would be preached to all nations beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.”
“Stay in the city” – Can you remember someone with great perception and understanding who gave people space and time to process their experience of loss, doubt and grief and encouraged them to “stay in the city”- until they were ready to move on?
“Now as he blessed them, he withdrew from them” – can you remember an occasion when you recognised that the time had come for you to step back and let others take more responsibility for the work at hand, while reassuring them of your ongoing love and support. Parents, Teachers or leaders in the community, who humbly and lovingly withdrew in such a way that those in their care might come into their own, realize their own potential, and be given space to make their contribution.
From the perspective of the disciples:
Remember a deep experience of mercy and forgiveness that awakened in you or your community a whole new sense of joy and a belief in the goodness and beauty of life and love. “They went back full of joy.”
Remember how a life experience of failure strengthened you and empowered you to support and accompany others through similar difficult situations. “You are witnesses to this.”
Remember a time when someone believed the time was right and surprised you by entrusting you or your community with new challenges and responsibilities that you never thought yourself capable of but you embraced it humbly with the assurance of their ongoing care and support? “Now I am sending you out..”
Remember with gratitude those people who had a great influence on our lives or that of our community. People who widened our horizons, helped us to see new possibilities and set us on a new path. People who gave us the confidence and opportunity to realise our full potential and not settle for less.
Let the prayers of thanksgiving, repentance and petition flow from your meditation – ideally these are expressed in our own words interlaces with words from the passage. (See introduction to Lectio stages.)
Let the rich silence of God’s presence grow and deepen as we journey to a prayer of no words and no images – simple presence to the presence of God. (Contemplative moment – see introduction).
We reflect on our experience of the work of God in the passage and in life until a truth or some truths emerge – new insights into life and love – which can be savoured and bearing fruit in our lives. (Wisdom Moment –see Introduction)