Liturgical Notes

Jesus’ Ascension: He Will Return

St. Luke records that Jesus ascended into Heaven forty days after His Resurrection. He promised to send the Holy Spirit to the Apostles to guide and inspire them as His “witnesses to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Luke tells us, “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 gazing at the sky as He was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee … 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.’” (Acts 1:10-11) Jesus’ Church professes her faith in His return in the Holy Mass’ Eucharistic Prayers, “We proclaim Your death, O Lord, and profess Your Resurrection until You come again.” Jesus’ life, passion, death, Resurrection, His fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies, His claim to be God the Son, founding His Church on Peter, and His promise to be with her until the end of the world when He will return as Judge of the living and the dead, is what separates Christianity from all other religions. Jesus will judge everyone according to his or her conduct. He said Himself, “The Father Himself judges no one, but has assigned all judgment to the Son.” (Jn 5:22)

There are two judgments, a particular judgment of each of us when we die and a general judgment at the end of the world. Jesus’ ascension into Heaven brings us down to earth as we ask whether we’ll be ready when He returns. He promised, “I am indeed going to prepare a place for you, and then I shall come back to take you with me, that where I am you may be too.” (Jn 14:3) Will we be ready to go with Him? He warns us to “Keep your eyes open, for you do not know the day nor the hour.” (Mt 25:13) A poem, “If Jesus Came to Your House,” calls for reflection. Here are some lines: “If Jesus came to your house to spend a day or two/If He came unexpectedly, I wonder what you’d do./…But when you saw Him coming, would you meet Him at the door/With arms outstretched in welcome to your heavenly Visitor?/Or would you have to change your clothes before you let Him in?/Or hide some magazines and put the Bible where they’d been?/Would you turn off the radio and hope He hadn’t heard?/And wish you hadn’t uttered that last, loud, nasty word?/…And I wonder if the Saviour spent a day or two with you,/Would you go right on doing the things you always do?/Would you go right on saying the things you always say?/Would life for you continue as it does from day to day?/… Would you be glad to have Him stay forever on and on?/Or would you sigh with great relief when He at last was gone?/It might be interesting to know the things that you would do?/If Jesus Christ in person came to spend some time with you.” Face it, He’s coming! There’s no escape.

How do we prepare for Jesus’ return? We begin with Baptism. He told His Apostles before His ascension, “John baptized you with water, but within a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:5) He commissioned His Apostles, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. The man who believes in it and accepts Baptism will be saved; the man who refuses to believe in it will be condemned.” (Mk 16:15-16)

The Gospel is all about what we need to do in order to unite with Jesus who revealed that, “No one comes to the Father but through me.” (Jn 14:6) Through His Church Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to each of us in the Sacrament of Baptism giving us the gifts we need to live the Christian life and be ready when He returns as our Judge.

What gifts do we need? Wisdom to act on the truth, namely follow Jesus who is the truth. Understanding to recognize that we need Jesus to free us from our sinfulness. Counsel to choose the things of Heaven rather than earthly things. Knowledge to see Jesus’ presence in His Word and His Church’s Sacraments. Piety to be prayerful. Fortitude to persevere as faithful Christians despite life’s obstacles. Fear of the Lord to recognize that Jesus is our most precious Saviour, Companion, and Friend. To reinforce these gifts and perfect them Jesus sends the Holy Spirit again in His Church’s Sacrament of Confirmation so we can witness publicly to our faith in and love for Jesus. Thus we help others prepare for Jesus’ return.

Whatever Jesus expects of us He gives us the wherewithal to accomplish. It’s up to us, as creatures with free will, to do what He tells us and receive what He offers us. His Mother’s advice at the wedding feast at Cana was “Do whatever He tells you!” (Jn 2:5) By doing what Jesus told them their water was changed into wine. When we do what Jesus tells us we’re changed into a people joyfully awaiting His return. Be ready! He’s returning! (frsos)