The author of the Acts of the Apostles, traditionally acknowledged to be the evangelist Luke, painstakingly described the Ascension of Jesus as a further stage in the unfolding pattern of God’s presence amongst his people. The Ascension, far from being the end of Christ’s presence with his Church, initiated a new and yet more wonderful chapter in that presence.
For this reason, Luke emphasised that his description of the Ascension could only be understood as a continuation of the Gospel that had dealt with everything that Jesus had done and taught from the beginning.
The death and Resurrection of Jesus had inaugurated a new future for a sinful world. The Ascension of Jesus into heaven, far from being a full stop, an ending to Christ’s presence, ushered in a new and yet more wonderful manifestation of his presence. This, the Risen Lord explained to those first Apostles.
“When he had been at table with them, he told them to wait for what the Father had promised. It is what you have heard me speak about: John baptised with water, but you, not many days from now, will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.”
The Apostles who had heard these words were anxious to know whether this baptism with the Holy Spirit would mark the end of time when, according to the promises made to Israel, God would restore the Kingdom.
Jesus refused to speculate about the end of time. Instead, he emphasised the approaching Ascension as the Father’s blessing on the Apostles and his disciples: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth.” This new era, dawning in the Resurrection
and Ascension of Jesus, was expressed perfectly in Paul’s blessing to the Ephesians: “May the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you and how infinitely great is the power that he has exercised for us believers.”
The Resurrection, taken with the Ascension, inaugurated the fullness of God’s power leading creation to its triumphant conclusion. “This you can tell from the strength of his power at work in Christ. He has put all things under his feet, and made him, as the ruler of everything, the head of the Church; which is his body, the fullness of him who fills the whole of creation.”
It is from this perspective that we must understand the Ascension for ourselves. Far from being the end of something we can never share, it makes us parts of Christ’s living body, sharers in the fullness of him who fills the whole of creation. What matters is not the manner of Christ’s departure, but his continuing ministry in the Church.
Mark’s Gospel described the Ascension from this same perspective: “Go out to the whole world, proclaim the Good News to all creation.”
Far from marking an end, the Ascension was a continuation of Christ’s presence. Great emphasis was placed on the signs that would accompany Christ’s presence with believers. “In my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues… they will lay their hands on the sick who will recover.”
Rather than taking these words as a literal description of what we can and cannot do, we should take them as the unshakeable promise that the Risen Lord lives and works in his faithful.