The Ascension: A Preview of Future Glory

At the conclusion of the Easter season we celebrate in the Church the Ascension of our Lord, when Jesus returned to Heaven to be with His Heavenly Father.

The event is recorded in the book of Acts:
When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.
While the apostles would have wanted Jesus to remain with them in physical form for the rest of their lives, He did not leave them to fend for themselves. Jesus knew that His disciples needed extra help in their mission of preaching and teaching and so He promised the Holy Spirit, or in other places called the Advocate.

These words of Jesus prepare the apostles for what would happen at Pentecost, when they would finally receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In the liturgy the Ascension of Jesus is celebrated with great joy and solemnity. This seems strange as one would think that Jesus leaving the apostles would be a time of mourning and loss. However, the angels who appeared to the apostles reminded them that this is only temporary and that Jesus will come again.

It is not like Good Friday, which commemorates a great tragedy, but instead focuses on the glory of Jesus' second coming and the promise of the Holy Spirit. The day also foreshadows our own promise of future glory, as the opening prayer at Mass prays:
Gladden us with holy joys, almighty God,
and make us rejoice with devout thanksgiving,
for the ascension of Christ your son
is our exaltation,
and, where the head has gone before in glory,
the Body is called to follow in hope.
Through our lord Jesus Christ, your son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the holy spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
The celebration reminds us that we too are not meant to remain on this earth, but are meant to be with Jesus in Heaven. We may be sad that Jesus did not remain on earth in physical form, but He only went to Heaven because He wants us to be with Him for all eternity.

To help us on our long and arduous road of life, Jesus gave us a Helper to assist us on our journey to Heaven. In our next article, we will look at who the Holy Spirit is and how He continues to help us and the Church draw closer to eternity.

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