Joy of the Gospel


If you ask an average person in the streets what happened to Jesus after his death, they surely know that he rose from the dead. Ask them what happened to him after his resurrection, l bet you, a significant number does not know of the Ascension event, yet they may know that Jesus is in heaven. The first thing to strike me from the account of the ascension according to the gospel of Matthew is the carefulness of the writer to indicate the number of disciples present, that they were eleven (Matt 28:16). Judas Iscariot was missing. He did not get the glimpse of the final view of their master with raised and outstretched hands in blessing upon them. As the faithful do we find our hearts yearning to be with the community of believers in order to receive blessings as people of God? The bible does not merely mention something if it were not of importance. There is a reason why Matthew mentions the absence of one disciple from the twelve. On another hand, we ought to cherish the carefulness again of the gospels when they show us how Christ appeared to all his disciples after his resurrection. One should not fail to see that it all would find meaning on the day of the departure of Christ, the day of the ascension.
The ascension of Jesus Christ looks like a culmination of his ministry, but, how about we look at it as the beginning of a new phase of the same ministry? A ministry in which we all have to partake individually as disciples of Christ and in unison as the Church. It effectively connects the story of Jesus with the story of the Church, hence the reason we see the beginning words of the first reading of today from the book of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:1) connecting with the ascension events. Without the ascension, the story of the resurrection is incomplete. Imagine the early church preaching of a resurrected Christ, or our faith today without the account of his ascension. We know of the raising of Lazarus from the dead, but we know not of what became of him. Over the years, many interpretations have been given, but lacking in effect is the hope and true knowledge as we get from the scriptures about the departure of our master into heaven right in the sight of his followers. By this reason, the ascension validated the resurrection.
After his resurrection the Son of Man spends again time with his followers, showing them love and assurance in the work and mission that was to remain theirs. Heaven took time to see to it that the mission that Christ was to leave in the care of his followers would not be one quoted with a gloomy face but with glory, joy and hope. God’s plan of salvation through Christ’s mission on earth did not conclude by the memory of a blood stained Christ crowned with thorns but a reigning Christ crowned with glory, ascending back to the Father to sit at his right hand where he is King.
The forty days that Christ spent here on earth after his resurrection are a gesture of great love. Through his death and resurrection the work of redemption was made complete. The atonement was paid in full. So why didn’t Christ rise from the dead and proceed directly to the Father? It is because he had great love for his people, and more importantly, he was preparing his followers for the great mission at hand. During this time he prepares his followers for the coming of the Holy Spirit. This is an inspiration of grace that should open our eyes. How often do we see ourselves not thoroughly committing to good works or doing such works half-heartedly? How often do we quickly depart from times set for worship? How often do we speed up liturgy, family or personal prayer so that we attend to other chores or things of this material world? Think about how students in a classroom hurriedly want to leave a lecture at the sound of a siren when time is up. How quickly we want to knock off at work and depart. After resurrection, Christ could have bed farewell on that very Sunday morning, to assume his glory in heaven after the excruciating events of his condemnation, crucifixion and death. Imagine how it could have been for the master to leave his followers that way. But, out of love and commitment to the work of the Father, in a beautiful fashion he blesses them and departs in glory. In Latin they say “finis opus coronat”, which means “The end crowns the work”, and thus the ascension crowns the work of Christ on earth.
While meeting with his disciples after resurrection, Christ enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem until they had received ‘The promise of the Father’ about which they had heard him speak. It was the gift of the Holy Spirit. It was only when Christ had departed that the Holy Spirit would come. He had to ascend so that the Holy Spirit would descend. Surely the promise of the Father, through Christ, was granted on account that they also abided with the words of Christ. Upon the cross, Jesus Christ gifted Mary to John (Church) as his mother, and him as her son. For once that sounded as the last gift of Christ and his last words. Today, the ascension paves way for yet another gift, that which births the Church, the Holy Spirit. May our celebration of the solemnity of the ascension rekindle our hearts and keep us connected to Christ through the mission he bestowed on the Church. Gazing on Christ as he is covered by a cloud as he ascends to heaven, may our hearts be filled with joy and hope that the Holy Spirit is coming.
Fr. Methuli Lanele Moyo
(Gweru Diocese)