LOOKING UP? – Ascension of the Lord, Year B

May 9 or 12, 2024

NOTE: Click here for a reflection on the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B, which is observed on Sunday, May 12, by communities that celebrate Ascension on Thursday, May 9.

Revised Common Lectionary
Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47 or Psalm 93
Ephesians 1:15-23
Luke 24:44-53

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9 (6)
Ephesians 1:4:1-7 (8-10) 11-13
Mark 16:15-20

One of the biggest events of 2024 so far was the total solar eclipse that was visible in many parts of North America. What were you doing when the eclipse happened? Were you looking up?

In Luke’s account of the Ascension from the Acts of the Apostles, we are told that as Jesus “was lifted up,” they were “gazing up toward heaven” (Acts 1:10). Two men in white stood by them and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Like those startled disciples, we might ask, now that the earthly Jesus is no longer physically present among us, where are we to look for him?

Biblical references to the Ascension do use words like “lifted” and “raised” to describe the transition of Jesus through death on the cross to resurrection and exaltation. Yet the ascension isn’t really about the sky or the clouds, but about the fullness of who Jesus was and is. The same Jesus who was born of Mary, who proclaimed the coming of God’s reign in word and deed, and who suffered death at the hands of the Roman occupiers, is also the exalted Christ who rose from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of God. The upward direction we sometimes use when speaking of the Ascension is less of a physical description than a way of holding together the earthly life and mission of Jesus with his risen and exalted life in glory.

The importance of the Ascension during the early centuries of the Christian church is reflected by its inclusion in all the ancient creeds. The evangelist Luke clearly regarded the Ascension as significant as well. He uses this event to signal the turning point in his two-volume work. Luke includes the Ascension story at the conclusion of his Gospel and at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles. It is both the end point in the story of Jesus’s life and ministry and the starting point for the early community’s witness to the risen One under the direction of the Holy Spirit. The mystery we celebrate today was for Luke the pivotal event for understanding the continuity between the mission of Jesus and the mission of the Christian community.

In the Ascension story from Acts, the apostles were encouraged to get their heads out of the clouds. Instead, they should look forward to that day when Christ would return in glory. They would soon recognize that he was still among them in the life of the Christian community, in the words of Scripture, in the breaking of the bread, and in the poor and needy with whom he identifies.

The apostles were told to stop looking up and to set their sight on the ends of the earth, where they were to give witness to Christ. Like those early followers of Jesus, we are called to refocus our vision to see Christ’s continuing presence in the world around us and to take up our commission to be his witnesses in every community and nation, in every time and situation. As living members of Christ’s body, we bring his presence and love through our service of others. Let this prayer of Spanish mystic Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) be ours as well:

God of love, help us to remember
that Christ has no body now on earth but ours,
no hands but ours, no feet but ours.
Ours are the eyes to see the needs of the world.
Ours are the hands with which to bless everyone now.
Ours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.

The Ascension might draw our eyes heavenward at first. Yet the risen and ascended One is with us still and sends us out to carry on his mission right where we are. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, let’s get to work!

A Hymn for Today: “Although our Lord has left us”

Born in the Netherlands, Fred Kaan, FHS, acquired a thirst for justice that was shaped by his experiences while growing up under Nazi occupation. He spent most of his life in the United Kingdom, where he served as a Congregationalist (later United Reformed) pastor. He began writing hymns during his years of pastoral ministry and continued long after his retirement. This hymn about the Ascension is striking for the simplicity of language he uses to express a rich mystery.

Although our Lord has left us,
he leaves us not alone.
Ascended into heaven,
he makes our earth his home.

Christ is alive and present
and makes us all akin;
in ev’ry human being
he walks the world again.

Christ brings, by his ascending,
God’s love to all the earth,
a cosmic new dimension
to ev’ry human birth.

Text: Fred Kaan, 1929-2009. © 1972, 1997, Hope Publishing Co. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857.

Image Credit: The Ascension, JESUS MAFA, Cameroon, 1973

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

To receive these weekly reflections by email, please send a message to office@thehymnsociety.org and type “Lectionary” in the subject line.