Browsing Homilies

The Ascension of the Lord

Acts 1:1-11 | Ps 47 | Eph 1:17-23 (or) Eph 4:1-13 (or) 4:1-7, 11-13 | Mk 16:15-20

Today we celebrate the day that Jesus Christ was “taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that Christ’s ascension “marks the definitive entrance of Jesus’ humanity into God’s heavenly domain, whence he will come again” (CCC 665). It also states that Jesus Christ, “having entered the sanctuary of heaven once and for all, intercedes constantly for us as the mediator who assures us of the permanent outpouring of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 667).

Christ, fully human, having walked the earth for, as tradition asserts, thirty-three years, was taken up into heaven, as his disciples were gathered. What a sight this must have been! Take a moment and put yourself in the disciples’ place. What do you imagine seeing or feeling or thinking? Then listen again to the words of the angels after Jesus was taken up: “Men of Galilee why are you standing there looking at the sky?” Can you imagine being asked this seemingly ridiculous question after what had just happened?

I think the key to understanding this question is to situate it with some of the other questions that are asked in Scripture. In the book of Genesis, after Adam and Eve sin and hide themselves, God asks them, “Where are you?” In the Gospel of John, Jesus encounters the first disciples and asks them, “What are you looking for?” In Mark’s gospel, Jesus asks the blind Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Similarly, Jesus then asks his disciples on Mount Tabor, “Who do you say that I am?” In Luke’s gospel, the angels ask the women seeking the body of Jesus, “Why do you search for the living among the dead?” these and other questions open up my understanding of the seemingly obvious question asked in today’s first reading: “Why are you standing there looking up at the sky?”

In each of these questions, there are several layers. There is the simple, surface answer asked of the characters in the story, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replies, “I want to see! I am blind, I want my vision restored.” “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” The women essentially respond, “Well, our friend was buried here so we came to anoint his body.” But each of these questions transcends the scene being played out in Scripture. The question points to some reality in the text but extends deep into the hearts and histories of the readers. Each of these questions has some answer that burns deeper in our hearts. When God asks, “Where are you?” and Jesus asks, “What are you looking for?” no simple answer suffices. These questions get at the root of our very identities. When Jesus wonders, “Who do you say that I am?” we must spend a lifetime mining our relationship with God and articulating that answer with our words and actions.

So today, when the disciples are asked why they gaze skyward, we are asked why we gaze skyward. Parishioners of Saint Noel, “Why do you stand here looking up at the sky? Why do you come here today? What is it that you are looking for from the Ascended One? Are you looking at the sky in wonder and awe and gratitude? Are you amazed at the power of God and the beauty of God’s plan and creative action in the world and in your life? Are you looking at the sky with fear or anxiety? Are you nervous that this God who once felt so close and available now seems more distant and out of reach? Are you looking at the sky in gratitude and hope, thankful for the closeness you have felt to Christ and anticipating the new ways your relationship will grow? Are you looking at the sky with disappointment, longing, and maybe some anger? Perhaps your prayers and pleadings have not yet been answered by God or were not answered in the way you expected?

Maybe you are gazing at the sky for many of these reasons. Be assured, friends, that you are not alone. You join the disciples who were assembled on that day and you join the multitudes of believers who continue to gaze heavenward with their prayers each and every day in the sure and certain hope that this Jesus who is no longer physically with us, is interceding for us with the Father in heaven.


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