Ascension offers new meaning in pandemic

Published: May 21, 2020

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Jesus said to his disciples: "'All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.'" (Matthew 28:18-20)

The Ascension of the Lord celebrates Jesus' ascension into heaven and his coming into glory at the right hand of the Father. It occurred 40 days after his resurrection from the dead, which falls on Ascension Thursday. However, in most Catholic provinces and dioceses in the United States, including the Diocese of Little Rock, this feast is transferred to the following Sunday.

"The lifting up of Jesus on the cross signifies and announces his lifting up by his ascension into heaven, and indeed begins it. Jesus Christ, the one priest of the new and eternal covenant, 'entered, not into a sanctuary made by human hands ... but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.' There Christ permanently exercises his priesthood, for he 'always lives to make intercession' for 'those who draw near to God through him'. As 'high priest of the good things to come' he is the center and the principal actor of the liturgy that honors the Father in heaven." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 662)

It was Christ's ascension that made Pentecost possible. "It is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you," Jesus told his disciples. (John 16:7) This event is the completion of the Easter mysteries of Jesus’ life, passion, death and resurrection, and is the final step before the coming of the Holy Spirit. Simply Catholic explains there are two important things to remember about the ascension. First, Jesus' ascension is the goal for each one of us, and second, Jesus will come back and we need to be ready.

"Jesus’ work on earth is now complete, but the task of bearing witness to him and making disciples is never done, not until he returns at the end of time. That is the task the Apostles began to do, starting with prayer in the upper room as they awaited the promised Holy Spirit. ... They began to do what the Lord Jesus asked them to do: bear witness and make disciples. That task is not just theirs; it belongs to all of us."

During the coronavirus pandemic, we may see the paschal mystery and ascension in a different way. When Jesus "ascends to the Father, the flesh of the crucified and risen Christ — the flesh we share — is seated at God’s right hand forever."

"Perhaps we would do well to pay special attention to that mystery of the ascended flesh of Christ in this moment of global pandemic, when we are on a daily basis (or even hourly) reminded of the fragility of our existence in the flesh. All we need to recall as Christians, when we gaze upon the broken bodies of our COVID-ravaged brothers and sisters, and the resulting brokenness in society as a product of the pandemic, is the broken body of our brother Christ."

"It is that broken and beaten flesh that not only rises transformed from the grave — still bearing the wounds, the signs of vulnerability — but ascends to be joined with the Father forever. It speaks the truth that our individual and collective brokenness (a condition of which we are ever so aware in these uncertain times) is not the end of the story, but, through Christ, a prelude to glory," explains Father Andrew Clyne for Simply Catholic.