Matthew 28:16-20 - The Ascension is not just a singular moment, but rather a progressive movement.
Depending on where you live and in what diocese you live, the feast of the Ascension may be celebrated on a Thursday or a Sunday. I live in Chicago, where it is celebrated today, so the gospel reading today is for the Ascension. This passage from Matthew is often referred to as the “Great Commission” of the Apostles, and is used to help motivate Christians to evangelize around the world. I would like to take a slightly different approach, and put these few lines into the context of the Ascension for us to meditate on today.
“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). At first glance, these words of Jesus seem like a no-brainer. “Uh, duh Jesus. I know You are always with me.” Yet, how do we see the Ascension? Most of us tend to view the Ascension as just another event, or moment, that happened in the life of Jesus, one that serves as a nice capstone to the Gospel. It ends His time, and begins our time. We start to speak of Jesus in the past as if He was not really with us. The Ascension becomes Jesus’ way of saying, “Peace out everyone! I’ll see you around. Good luck getting all these people baptized!” We, like the Apostles, “when they saw Him, they worshipped, but they doubted” (Mt 28:17). We need to let Jesus cast out our doubts, and show us the truth.
More than a Moment
So, what is the Ascension? Let us look at what Christ commands His Apostles to do.
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19)
The Ascension is not just a singular moment, but rather a progressive movement. It is the Son drawing all things, all peoples, to Himself in order that He might offer them to the Father, to the great joy and delight of the Father. If this sounds familiar, it is because this is what we as Catholics celebrate in the Mass. In and through baptism, which Our Lord has commanded, we are brought into God’s family. We are incorporated, which comes from the Latin for “forming into a body”. We become Jesus Christ in that we now form and are a part of His Living Body. And just as Christ returned to the Father when He Ascended body and soul into Heaven, we are now being drawn by Him into the Father’s presence and gaze of delight. The Ascension will reach its completion when all the members of His Body have received life by the Spirit (Baptism), and are finally drawn to the Father at the end of time.
Sharing in Christ’s Work
Friends, Christ is truly with us “until the end of the age”. Because the Ascension is the movement, the energy, of the time of the already but not yet in which we live, Jesus Our Savior is at every single moment drawing us to the Father. He is calling, forgiving, nurturing, and transforming each of us at all times until the end of time when we come to our completion in the full union with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the heavenly kingdom. We are called now in these times to participate in Christ’s saving work begun on the Cross and now seen in the Ascension. Like a stretched rubber band, Christ on the Cross went to the very depths of human existence. And like a rubber band, the more you stretch it out, the greater the snapback. The Ascension is that great snap, the returning of humanity, now in the Son, to the Father. And since Jesus is already with His Father, and we are united to Him in Baptism, He is now much closer to us in this work.
In order to accomplish this work that we are called into, we must be docile. We must be receptive, like Jesus and like Mary who both received everything from the Father in and by the Spirit and offered it all back to Him. We must see our work not as drawing others to ourselves so that we might be successful and please God, but so that God may be glorified. “The glory of God is man fully alive”, the line goes, and the man fully alive is Christ Jesus. So our whole being, our whole mission, must be oriented toward drawing others, with Christ, into Christ’s Body so that they might become Him, become fully alive, and give glory to God, Our Father.