Sunday Church at Home, The Ascension of the Lord, Cycle C

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The Ascension of the Lord

Sunday Church at Home

during lockdown in the Coronavirus Pandemic

Preach the Gospel to All Creation.  

The lay leader makes the sign of the cross, saying:

Leader:    In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

All reply:    Amen

Leader:    Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

All reply:    Blessed be God for ever

Leader:    Luke describes the ascension of Jesus twice: at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles and at the end of his Gospel. The difference is that while both depict the departure of Jesus, the Gospel is signalling the end of Jesus’ time on earth, whereas Acts signals the beginning of the mission of the Church.

LITURGY OF THE WORD

First Reading: Acts 1:1-11

Introduction to the reading: 

Today’s passage takes us back to the beginning verses of the Acts of the Apostles and set forth the theme that Luke is going to develop throughout this, the longest book of the New Testament. His major theme is the role of the Holy Spirit, who enables the apostles to be effective witnesses to Jesus. The Holy Spirit is mentioned 57 times in the Acts of the Apostles.

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

In the first book, O Theophilus,
I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,
until the day when he was taken up
after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit
to the apostles whom he had chosen.
To them he presented himself alive after his passion
by many proofs,
appearing to them during forty days,
and speaking of the kingdom of God.
And while staying with them
he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem,
but to wait for the promise of the Father,
which, he said, “you heard from me,
for John baptized with water,
but before many days
you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 

So when they had come together, they asked him,
“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons
which the Father has fixed by his own authority.
But you shall receive power
when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,
and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem
and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” 

And when he had said this,
as they were looking on, he was lifted up,
and a cloud took him out of their sight.
And while they were gazing into heaven as he went,
behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said,
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?
This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven,
will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

The word of the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 47:2-3.6-7.8-9 (R. 6)

Let us now pray the Responsorial Psalm:

R/. God has gone up with shouts of joy.
    The Lord goes up with trumpet blast.

All peoples, clap your hands.
Cry to God with shouts of joy!
For the LORD, the Most High, is awesome,
the great king over all the earth.

God goes up with shouts of joy.
The LORD goes up with trumpet blast.
Sing praise for God; sing praise!
Sing praise to our king; sing praise!

God is king of all the earth.
Sing praise with all your skill.
God reigns over the nations.
God sits upon his holy throne.

R/. God has gone up with shouts of joy.
    The Lord goes up with trumpet blast.

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:17-23

Introduction to the reading: Ephesus was an ancient city located on the western coast of what is today Turkey. Paul visited there several times. Today’s passage, which is near the beginning of the letter to the Ephesians, is a prayer asking God’s blessing upon that community. Many thoughts in this prayer are connected to today’s feast of the Ascension.

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians.

Brothers and sisters: 

May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of glory,
give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation
in the knowledge of him,
having the eyes of your hearts enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope
to which he has called you,
what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power
in us who believe,
according to the working of his great might
which he accomplished in Christ
when he raised him from the dead
and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places,
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion,
and above every name that is named,
not only in this age but also in that which is to come;
and he has put all things under his feet
and has made him the head over all things for the church,
which is his body,
the fulness of him who fills all in all.

The word of the Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia
Go and make disciples of all nations, says the Lord;
I am with you always, to the close of the age.
Alleluia.

Gospel: Luke 24:46-53

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke.

At that time:
Jesus said to his disciples,
“Thus it is written,
that the Christ should suffer
and on the third day rise from the dead,
and that repentance and forgiveness of sins
should be preached in his name to all nations,
beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things.
And behold, I send 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,
and lifting up his hands he blessed them.
While he blessed them,
he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.
And they worshipped him,
and returned to Jerusalem with great joy,
and were continually in the temple blessing God.

The Gospel of the Lord. 

Reflection on the Readings 

The leader reads the text prepared by the priest and leads the sharing.

A beautiful old fable tells of how Jesus, after his Ascension into Heaven, was surrounded by the Holy Angels who began to enquire about his work on earth.  Jesus told them about his birth, life, preaching, death, and Resurrection, and how he had accomplished the salvation of the world.  The Archangel Gabriel asked, “Well, now that you are back in Heaven, who will continue your work on earth?”  Jesus said, “While I was on earth, I gathered a group of people around me who believed in me and loved me.   They will continue to spread the Gospel and carry on the work of the Church.” Gabriel was perplexed.  “You mean Peter, who denied you three times and all the rest who ran away when you were crucified?  You mean to tell us that you left them to carry on your work? And what will you do if this plan doesn’t work?”  Jesus said, “I have no other plan — it must work.” Truly, Jesus has no other plan than to depend on the efforts of his followers!

The Acts of the Apostles starts with an instruction by the risen Christ to wait. I wonder if the activists in that early community weren’t frustrated by his instruction. You can see that they were ready to get on with things – and they would have got it all wrong. It’s their question that reveals their mis-direction, “Lord are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?” Of course, they mean a purely external, politically and militarily dominant kingdom of Israel. No, they will have to wait for the baptism with the Holy Spirit, then they will know how and where to be Jesus’ witnesses. 

Jesus wants them to break free of their limited view, their biases and tendency to misinterpret the meaning of his life. What Jesus also wants is that they witness to him far beyond the boundaries of Israel. They will, Jesus says, have to be, “my witnessers in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” For all this they will need help, so they must acknowledge their dependence on God and wait for God’s pleasure to pour that help out on them. 

We are not good at waiting. We get irritated if we do not get quick results. Waiting in lines for a car license, for the lights to come back on in load shedding, for our children to come home from a party, with our aging parents at the doctor’s office, etc. These days we are particularly frustrated and tired of waiting for peace to break out in the Ukraine, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, the Middle East and innumerable places of conflict in our world. Waiting is not what we do well. 

Why is waiting so frustrating? Because it means someone else, or some other power, is in charge, not us. And being out of control and subject to other forces reminds us of our smallness, and vulnerability. 

Jesus tells the disciples to, “wait for the promise of the Father.” They cannot go off spreading the news of his resurrection yet. They are a small, fearful community that has no power on its own. As the Gospels showed, they have a tendency to get Jesus’ message all wrong. What’s more, they flee when things get tough. On their own they will be misguided, perhaps engage in ways that are not of Jesus. 

We have to admit that we as Christians have also made some pretty big mistakes about Jesus’ message and ways. In our history the are stories of promoting our religion by forced baptisms and by trampling over the dignity and cultures of whole civilizations. We also have, like the original disciples, been cowardly when courage was required.

So, the disciples and we, must “hold our horses,” restrain ourselves and wait for God’s promise to be fulfilled. What’s more, the fulfillment will come at God’s timing, not our own. We tend to be action-oriented these days.  We have our projects and plans, we want to get on with things. Even when our plans and intentions are noble and serve a good purpose, how does God figure into them? Do we know? Have we asked? Do we wait for an answer, some direction? Maybe we have to “hurry up and wait.” Waiting on the Spirit is a reversal of our usual mode of operating.

When Christ talks to the disciples about their mission to the “ends of the earth,” we must not forget what had happened in Jerusalem. 

We recall the Emmaus story. (Luke 24: 13ff) The two disciples were on the road to Emmaus on Easter Sunday, and Jesus joined them but they did not recognise the Risen Jesus. “We had hoped,” and they tell the Stranger of the failed and frustrated hopes of the disciples. What they had hoped for was their version of triumph and success for Jesus – and themselves. But Jesus had to remind them, by interpreting the scriptures “beginning with Moses and all the prophets,” that suffering was to be part of his life and mission. 

In the first reading today we hear again of that link between Jesus’ mission and suffering.  

“To the apostles, Jesus presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs,
appearing to them during forty days,
and speaking of the kingdom of God.”

Christ presented himself alive to them by many proofs AFTER he had suffered the Passion and death on the Cross. Jesus, and now the disciples, cannot escape the suffering that comes with faithfulness to the message. Even in the presence of the risen Lord they are not far from the reality of suffering. So, for the disciples, who will have to live out and proclaim the Good News, suffering will be the price they and we pay for our belief and for the mission. 

We need the gift of the Spirit who sustains us when the going gets rough. We will be witnesses to Jesus by the integrity of our lives and the commitment to his ways. If we are faithful to what his Spirit teaches us at work, and with our families, in school and in the political arena, etc., there will be suffering. Or, maybe worse, we will just be ignored, discounted as unrealistic and dismissed as impossible idealists. 

We will need the gift of the Spirit and the wait is worth it.

The Ascension teaches us that Jesus would continue to be alive within the world after all, but in a different form: the Holy Spirit’s presence within our own human bodies. Loss and absence are turned into real presence.

In the Eucharistic Prayer and in Holy Communion we take his body and blood into our own body and blood. His Spirit helps us accept his life, death, and resurrection. These settle into us and into others around us. This real presence now abides forever in our midst, urging us, gently nudging us to say yes to God. 

From today’s Gospel reading:

Jesus said to his disciples:

“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.”

Reflection:

When our world is dark and we feel alone, we want Jesus to keep his word and send us “the promise of my Father.” We want that promised One with us in whatever darkness, interior or exterior, we find ourselves.

So, we ask ourselves:

  • What has touched me in the readings today?
  • Name the darkness in your private world that needs “the promised One.”
  • Will you pray from now till Pentecost for Jesus to fulfill his promise to you?

Prayer of the Faithful 

Leader:   

With confidence in the Christ, the Son of God, who ascended to his Father forty days after he promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit, we bring our needs to God.

Reader:

We pray for all members of the Church today: that we may remember that, like Jesus’ apostles, our mission is to bear witness to the risen Christ.

LORD HEAR US 

We pray for those who have never experienced faith, or who have lost the faith that they had: that they may encounter the risen Christ in their lives and be drawn by him into a life of faith.
LORD HEAR US

We pray for wisdom: that God will inspire us in recognizing and using our gifts to enrich the faith community and cooperate with God in bringing forth the reign of God in our time and place.
LORD HEAR US

We pray for our sisters and brothers who are sick: that they  may be supported by their brothers and sisters in the community, and especially by members of the local Church.
LORD HEAR US

We pray for members of our families and friends who have died and those whose anniversaries occur about this time. 

LORD HEAR US

Leader:    Let us pray our PRAYER ON THE ASCENSION OF OUR LORD:

God, our heavenly Father,
you have glorified Christ our Saviour
with his resurrection from the dead
and ascension into heaven,
where he sits at your right hand.
May we be inspired to spread the Gospel message in word and deed,
according to your will for us.
May we do so joyfully, with your help, your guidance, and your grace.
Help us to seek what is above,
and give us possession of your everlasting kingdom.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. 

Amen.

Spiritual Communion

We can unite ourselves to the Eucharist through making a spiritual Communion.

By making an Act of Spiritual Communion, we express our faith in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist and ask him to unite himself with us. 

My Jesus, I believe you are really here in the Blessed Sacrament.
I love you more than anything in the world, and I hunger to receive you.
But since I cannot receive Communion at this moment, feed my soul spiritually. I unite myself to you now as I do when I receive you. Amen.

CONCLUDING RITE

Leader:    Let us pray to the Father in the words Jesus our Saviour gave us: 

All say:    Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  Amen.

Leader:   

God of majesty,

you led the Messiah

through suffering into risen life

and took him up to the glory of heaven.

Clothe us with the power

promised from on high,

and send us forth to the ends of the earth

as heralds of repentance

and witnesses of Jesus Christ, the firstborn from the dead,

who lives and reigns with you now and always

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.

All:    Amen.

Blessing

A leader who is a layperson, using no gesture, says:

Leader:   

On this day Christ, the only Son, passed into the highest heaven

to take his place with the Father in majesty

and to open the way for us.

May almighty God grant

that, where Christ is, we also may be.

R. Amen.

May God grant

that when Christ comes to judge the world

his face may shine upon us in lasting mercy.

R. Amen.

May God grant us the joyous fulfilment of Christ’s promise

to remain with us even to the end of time.

R. Amen.

May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life.
Alleluia. Alleluia 

All:         Amen. Alleluia. Alleluia.

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