May 30, 2019
Ascension of the Lord, Year C
Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension, and we read the final verses of the Gospel of Luke (Lk 24:46-53). Many elements characterize this passage, and we underline a few of them.
First of all, the passage is divided into two parts: in the first (vv.46-49), the conclusion of an appearance to the apostles is recounted, that which tells of the arrival of the Risen Lord in the Cenacle after which the Emmaus disciples returned there, and described their encounter with Him along the way (Lk 24:33).
After that (vv. 47-50), Jesus leads His disciples outside, towards Bethany, and there He ascends to the Father.
In Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus appears, He always opens the disciples’ minds to understand the Scriptures. He doesn’t explain His resurrection. He doesn’t say anything
to them of what happened except about God’s plan, because, He says, this plan is fulfilled.
So also, the angel, with the women, on the morning of Easter (Lk 24:7).
Jesus, obeying the Father, fulfills the story of salvation which God, down the centuries, promised to the people of Israel.
What was this plan, this promise?
The promise was that of a new covenant, which the prophets had glimpsed as the only possibility that the relationship between God and His people would become true and practicable.
No longer bound to the observance of a law, but to a newness of life that God would have given. It was the covenant of which Jeremiah spoke (31:31-34), written in hearts.
So, Jesus says that this covenant is fulfilled thanks to His passion; in the Gospel passage that describes the last supper of Jesus with His disciples, Luke is the only one to use the expression “the new covenant in my blood” (Lk 22:20), because the new covenant is His blood, His life, poured upon us, shed for us.
If all this is true, then Jesus can now return to the Father. Not only because He has completed His mission among men, but also because, by leaving, He remains on earth in the life of His disciples. Now the logic of the Kingdom left in the hands of the disciples, in the new heart of His own, the covenant becomes the criterion and the sense of the Church’s life.
The passage of Jeremiah cited above goes on to say that “they must no longer teach one another, saying: Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them” (Jer. 31:34): the internalization of the law if complete, and each one bears the Lord in their bodies. Jesus can now return to the place from where He left.
A second element that today’s passage connects with this discourse on fulfillment concerns forgiveness.
Let us turn again to Jeremiah 31:34. How will all know me? “for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
The new covenant, in the blood of Jesus, is strictly linked to the forgiveness that God employs with His own. We could say that the new covenant is the possibility given to man to let himself be forgiven infinitely.
What must the disciples announce then, starting with Jerusalem?
Basically, it’s this: “the conversion and forgiveness of sinners” (Lk 24:47).
Not because they have learned or listened to it somewhere, but because they are witnesses to it (Lk 24:48), rather, they have lived and experienced it first. First, they were loved to the point of forgiveness in their betrayals, in their escapes.
They will not do this by themselves, with their own strength, but they will be clothed with power from on high (Lk 24:49), by the Spirit who will remind them of all that God has done for them.
It is good, therefore, that after all this, Jesus ascends to heaven blessing His disciples (Lk 24:50), because the benediction is nothing other than this new presence of the Lord among them. There is a separation (Lk 24:53), which, however, is not an absence, because, in reality, Jesus cannot leave in an absolute way. He leaves and remains, intimately and profoundly linked to the life of the Church, in the heart of the world.