Since the Bishops of England and Wales have moved the feast of the Ascension to this Sunday, we shall have the Gospel reading for the Ascension.
Bede reminds us that the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins through the confession of Christ’s name appropriately started from Jerusalem, where his teaching and his passion had taken place. That church would extend to the end of the earth, fulfilling Isaiah 2:3-4.
St Cyril of Alexandria comments that in promising the descent of the Holy Spirit Jesus refers to the prophecy made of old in Joel 2:28. He promises them that they will receive the Spirit to whom he had referred before. The Father had promised the Spirit would come when Jesus left the disciples, and in HIs power they would forgive the sins of those who repented and acknowledged Christ is Lord. They were, Bede tells us, so inflamed with the assurance that strength would be given that they went even to the ends of the world.
Bede sees Bethany, which is on the slope of the Mount of Olives, as representing a church obedient to the commands of the Lord, and therefore an appropriate place for the Ascension. Jesus came in the flesh to take away our sins and to remove from us the curse which fell upon us and to give to all believers an inheritance of everlasting life. He concludes all he did in the world with words of blessing, thus fulfilling the world of the Psalmist (Ps 83:8 in the Vulgate) that ;he who gave the Law will give a blessing’. Those who are obedient receive his blessing.
The Incarnate Word made for us a new pathway when he united himself with our flesh and redeemed it. He will, in due time, St Cyril commented, come again in the glory of the Father and with the angels and will take us to be with him.
St Augustine reminds us that it was the Lord Jesus who was taken up into Heaven and that we cannot separate the human from the divine – Jesus was taken up body and soul into Heaven. St Leo the Great tells us that throughout the 40 days he had taught them and they knew that he really was Jesus risen from the dead, and that he strengthened them for the trials that would lie ahead, so although they were sad when he left them, they were also filled with joy, for the Ascension of Christ is our elevation.
We should, Bede reminds us, do as they did when they were continually, thereafter, in the Temple praising him and blessing God.
He ascended on the fortieth day, and soon his disciples would be filled with the Holy Spirit who came upon them and and enabled them to speak to all nations. The Lord commands unity as he ascends, and the Spirit confirms it when He descends.