The texts for this festival present several images that express the church’s understanding that God establishes cosmic rule through the risen Anointed One. The Ascension is portrayed in two accounts, both presented by Luke: the Gospel (Luke 24:44-53) and the first reading (Acts 1:1-11). The Gospel depicts Jesus’ departure from his followers after he interprets Scripture, highlighting his identity as the Anointed. He also commands the students to remain in Jerusalem until divine power comes upon them for a global mission. The more familiar scene in Acts stresses that Jesus was physically taken up into heaven in a cloud, giving proof that he will return to earth in the same way. Ephesians 1:15-23, in another image, articulates a view of the church as the Anointed’s body, while he is its heavenly head. The majesty of divine rule is celebrated in Psalm 47, while Psalm 93 stresses the justice of God’s reign, reflected in the statement at the end of the psalm that “God’s testimony is certain.”
The First Reading
Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven
As Jesus departs by physically ascending into heaven, the Apostles are promised that he will return and that the holy Spirit will empower them to be witnesses in the world. Luke addresses his description to a kind of ideal reader, whom he names “Theophilus,” or “lover of God.”
Dear Theophilus: The first volume I wrote concerned what Jesus began to do and also to teach, until the day he was taken up after he gave instructions by the holy Spirit to the Apostles whom he chose. To them he also presented himself alive after his suffering by way of many convincing proofs, appearing to them for forty days and speaking to them about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait for the Father’s promise, about which he said, “You heard from me, John was immersed with water but you will be immersed with the holy Spirit not many days from now.” So, those gathered together then asked him, “Master, are you now at this time restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority, but you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in both Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and as far as the ends of the earth.
After he said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud carried him away out of their sight. And while they were staring toward heaven as he went—behold, two men in white clothing had been standing with them, and they said, “Galileans, why have you been standing staring toward heaven? This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way you saw him go into heaven.”
God Rules over All the Nations
In the context of its lectionary use, the psalm’s images of the majesty of God’s rule over all nations depict the power and rule of the Anointed Jesus, referred to in Acts as extending “as far as the ends of the earth.”
- All nations—clap your hands!
Raise a shout to God with a ringing cry!
- For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome,
a great king over all the earth.
- God subdues nations under us,
and peoples under our feet.
- God chose our inheritance for us,
the pride of Jacob, God’s beloved.
- God has gone up on a shout of joy;
the Lord, at the sound of a trumpet.
- Sing praises to God, sing praises.
Sing praises to our God, sing praises.
- For God is king of all the earth.
Sing praises to God with a psalm.
- God is king over the nations.
God sits on God’s holy Throne.
- The princes of the nations gather,
the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth are God’s,
God is highly exalted.
or Psalm 93
God Is King over All Creation
This enthronement psalm evokes the permanence of God’s power and reign over all creation, depicted in God’s defeat of the powers of chaos, which are reflected in the image of the pounding waters of the sea.
- God reigns,
robed in majesty.
The Lord is robed,
girded with might.
God established creation;
it will not be shaken.
- Your Throne is established from the beginning;
you are eternal.
- The flood waters have lifted up, Lord;
the flood waters have lifted their voices.
The flood waters lift their pounding waves.
- Greater than the thunder of mighty water,
more majestic than the waves of the sea,
the Lord is majestic on high.
- Your testimony is most certain;
holiness befits your house,
Lord, for the length of days.
The Second Reading
A Prayer for the Church as Jesus’ Presence in the World
This reading encourages the church with a portrayal of Jesus’ exaltation to the heavens, which is the “reason” for the author’s thanksgiving at the outset of the prayer. The church is then reminded of its divine calling to be the full, continued presence of the Anointed in the world.
For this reason, and also because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers: May the God of our Lord Jesus the Anointed, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God, enlightening the eyes of your heart so that you may know the hope of God’s call, the glorious abundance of God’s inheritance among the saints, and the exceeding greatness of God’s power toward us who believe according to the working of his great might. God worked in the Anointed, raising him from the dead and seating him at the heavenly place of honor far above all rule, authority, power, lordship, and every name invoked as an authority, not only in this age but also in the one to come. God placed everything in submission under him and gave him to be leader over all things for the church, which is his body, the full presence of the one who fills and completes all things.
Jesus’ Departure according to Luke’s Gospel
The final scene of Luke’s Gospel continues the theme developed in the Gospel’s narrative of Jesus’ encounter with two students who were traveling to Emmaus: the Scriptures of Israel attest the way of Jesus. Being in the presence of the Scriptures permits Jesus’ followers to be in his presence. He is so vividly with them that he can promise that God will clothe them with the power to witness the truth of Jesus, provided they wait in Jerusalem for the authorization to act as witnesses.
Jesus said to his followers, “These were my words that I spoke to you when I was still with you: that it was necessary for all the writings in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning me to be fulfilled.” Then he opened up their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said to them, “So it was written, that the Anointed will suffer and arise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance for release of sins will be proclaimed to all the nations on the basis of his name—beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And look—I am conferring the promise of my Father upon you, but you: Remain in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” He led them out to Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. And it happened while he blessed them, he separated from them and was carried up into heaven. They worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were constantly in the Temple blessing God.