Happy Easter! This Sunday begins the last week of the Easter Season. It ends next Sunday with the celebration of Pentecost. In the archdioceses and dioceses of the US states of Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington, the Ascension of the Lord is transferred to the following Sunday. This has been done for the last several years in the western provinces of the North American church because the Ascension is too important to ignore and the celebration on Thursday was not getting the attention that it was due. Because St. Raymond Parish is located in one of these areas (California), we will celebrate the Ascension this Sunday while most of the world celebrated it the previous Thursday. The readings call us to reflect on the meaning of the Ascension and on our relationship with the Risen and Ascended Lord. The readings this year call us specifically to consider how well we are living out the task Jesus gave us in the great commission.
First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11
1 In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught 2 until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; 5 for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the holy Spirit.”
6 When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. 8 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.” 9 When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. 10 While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. 11 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.”
NOTES on First Reading:
* 1:1-14 This section presents the commission of the apostles as witnesses and the story of the Ascension of Jesus.
* 1:1-2 These verses act as an introduction to Acts and connect Acts with the Gospel of Luke (the first book) which is generally taken to have been written by the same writer.
* 1:2 This verse draws a parallel between the role of the Holy Spirit in the ministries of Jesus and of the apostles. The verb, “chosen,” echoes Luke 6:13 and the verse also looks to Luke 24:44-49.
* 1:3-5 These verses show that the apostles were instructed by the risen Jesus. This sense of continuity between the teaching of Jesus and the teaching of the disciples (Church) was very important to the early Church.
* 1:3 Luke considered the interval in which the appearances and instructions of the risen Jesus occurred to be especially sacred and expressed it in terms of the symbolic, sacred number forty (see Deut 8:2). In the scriptures forty is often used to indicate a special time in which God accomplishes a special task in and among His people. In Luke’s gospel, however, Luke connects the ascension of Jesus with the resurrection by describing the ascension on Easter Sunday evening (Luke 24:50-53). What should probably be understood as one event (resurrection, glorification, ascension, sending of the Spirit–the paschal mystery) has been historicized by Luke when he writes of a visible ascension of Jesus after forty days and the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost. For Luke, the ascension marks the end of the appearances of Jesus except for the extraordinary appearance to Paul. With regard to Luke’s understanding of salvation history, the ascension also marks the end of the time of Jesus’ direct action in the world (Luke 24:50-53) and signals the beginning of the time of Jesus’ action through the church as the normal means of carrying out His Mission.
The subject upon which Jesus taught the apostles and the subject of their preaching was the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God was an expression for the sovereignty of God over the “chosen ” people and, through them, the whole world. It was at the heart of Jesus’ preaching as it was the theocratic ideal of the Old Testament. It implies a Kingdom of Saints where God will truly be King. See Mt 3:2; 4:17; Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25.
* 1:4 The promise of the Father is, of course, the gift of the Holy Spirit which the next verse makes clear. This gift of the Spirit was first promised in Jesus’ final instructions to his chosen witnesses in Luke’s gospel (Luke 24:49) and it formed part of the continuing instructions of the risen Jesus on the kingdom of God, which Luke speaks of in Acts 1:3.
There is a subtle Eucharistic undertone here. Their table fellowship with Jesus had been restored. This same table fellowship with Jesus is now found in the Holy Eucharist.
For Luke, Jerusalem was central to the geography of salvation. It expresses, spatially, the continuity of Israel and the church.
* 1:5 The promise is articulated in the language of John the Baptist used in Mark 1:8. Use of John the Baptist’s prophecy here and in 11:16 demonstrates the prophecy’s fulfillment and also makes John a herald of the Church as well as of the Messiah.
* 1:6-11 Here Luke assures us that the parousia (second coming in glory) of Jesus will occur just as certainly as his ascension occurred.
* 1:6-8 This dialogue provides the program for the rest of Acts. The real question in verse 6 is: What is to happen in this new period? The question has 3 basic elements: 1. temporal; 2. personal; 3. spatial. Jesus’ answer in verse 7 disqualifies the question of timing. He answers what He will do in terms of what He will do through His witnesses in the Spirit. He then recasts the issue of the Kingdom of Israel in terms of their mission to the “ends of the earth.”
* 1:6 The question asked by the disciples is often seen as implying that they are still attempting to fit Jesus and His ministry into their expectations of a political leader who would restore self-rule to Israel. Since he had not done so, they ask if it is to take place now, in the time of the church.
* 1:7 This verse echoes the previous tradition that the precise time of the parousia is not revealed to human beings. See Mark 13:32; 1 Thes 5:1-3.
* 1:8 As Jerusalem was the city of destiny in the Gospel of Luke, here at the beginning of Acts, Jerusalem also has a central importance. It is the starting point for the mission of the Christian disciples to “the ends of the earth,” the place where the apostles were gathered and the doctrinal focal point in the early days of the community (Acts 15:2,6). For Luke, the ends of the earth means Rome.
* 1:9-14 The argument of whether Luke derived the story of the ascension from previous tradition or not depends in part on the differences between the old kerygma of Christ’s heavenly exaltation (Phil 2:9-11; Rom 8:34) and the interpretation of that message in terms of a bodily translation. Many elements of Luke 24:53 and Acts 1:9-12 represent a literary form supporting the latter idea. Among them are: the departing figure’s testament, the earthbound scenario, the transporting cloud, and the interpreting angels. Luke includes direct echoes of Elijah’s ascension from 2 Kings 2:9-13 and Sirach 48:9,12.
The witness theme is important here. Luke refers to witness’s vision five times in verses 9-11. This is an argument for the visibility and historicity of Jesus’ ascension. However, the inclusion of interpreting angels signals that this is not simply an event fully within history and therefore it is not completely comprehensible on strictly human terms.
There is a strong similarity with the last of Daniel’s night visions from Daniel 7:13-14. In fact Daniel’s description almost sounds as if it were a description of Jesus’ arrival in heaven after leaving earth in the ascension.
It is also suggested that a visible ascension here is intended to point to a visible parousia indicated in 1:11.
* 1:10 The passage is a close parallel to Luke 24:4-9. See also Mk 16:5-8. There are also similarities to Luke 9:30,34. See Mk 9:4,7.
* 1:11 Transportation by the cloud seems to be the point of the comparison. The cloud was also to be the conveyance of the Son of Man at His coming (Luke 21:27; Mk 13:26 and Dan 7:13-14). The similarity between Jesus ascension and His parousia suggests that these two events are to bracket this new period that has begun. The ascension is a prefigurement of the parousia and the conclusion of Jesus time anticipates the conclusion of the church’s time.
Second Reading: Ephesians 1: 17-23
(Brothers and sister: 17 May) [that] the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. 18 May the eyes of (your) hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, 20 which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, 21 far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.
NOTES on Second Reading:
This reading (Eph 1: 17-23) was the only selection given in the old Lectionary for Mass of 1970 and is retained as an option in the new (1999) Lectionary.
* 1:17 The Lectionary adds the opening words shown in parentheses and drops the word in square brackets to improve readability since the verse begins in the middle of a sentence. In Greco-Roman letters, the greeting was customarily followed by a prayer. Paul’s letters usually include this element (except Gal and 1-2 Tim) but express it in Christian thanksgiving formulas and most often they also state the principal theme of the letter. In Ephesians the prayer is preceded by a lengthier blessing than usual.
* 1:20-23 God revealed His might in the resurrection and ascension of Christ and in His exaltation over all angelic forces. Paul uses early Christian creedal statements which formulated the “Christ-event” in terms of Psalm 110:1 and 8:7 in order to impress upon the readers the glorious position to which they have been called in Christ.
* 1:23 Only in Eph and Col is Christ called the head of the body, in contrast to the view in 1 Cor 12 and Romans 12:4-8 where Christ is equated with the entire body or community. Some take the one who fills as God, others as Christ (see Eph 4:10). If in Christ “dwells the fullness of the deity bodily” (Col 2:9), then, as God “fills” Christ, Christ in turn fills the church and the believer (Eph 3:19; 5:18). But the difficult phrases here may also allow the church to be viewed as the “complement” of Christ who is “being filled” as God’s plan for the universe is carried out through the church (See Eph 3:9-10).
Alternate Second Reading: Ephesians 4: 1-13
1 I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, 3 striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: 4 one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
7 But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
8 Therefore, it says:
“He ascended on high and took prisoners captive;
he gave gifts to men.”
9 What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended into the lower (regions) of the earth? 10 The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. 11 And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ,
NOTES on Alternate Second Reading:
* This reading (Eph 4:1-13) which will not be used this year at St. Raymond Parish is a choice added to the new Lectionary for Mass (1999).
* 4:1-6 Paul invokes the image of himself as a prisoner in the Lord to confer his moral authority to the exhortation that follow. The unity of the new humanity is exemplified by the church’s unity and fostered by the virtues that make life in common a reality: humility, gentleness, patience and forbearance. See also Col 3:12-15.
* 4:1 This verse begins the exhortation to worthy conduct that runs to 6:20. The exhortation stems from: the earlier statements about the unity of all things in Christ and the subjection of all things to Him (1:10, 22-23), the new humanity recreated through the sacrifice of Jesus (2:15-16), and the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the Church (3:4-6).
* 4:4-6 The unities mentioned, church, Spirit, hope; Lord, faith in Christ [Eph 1:13], baptism; and one God reflect the triune structure of later creeds in reverse order.
* 4:6 This verse ends with a strong sense of monotheism (Deut 6:4; Rom 3:30; 1 Cor 8: 5-6). The Greek word, “panta,” meaning all, is used four times here to express the transcendence and all-pervasiveness of God.
* 4:7-16 Paul uses the unity of the body as a backdrop for discussion of the unity of the church in the midst of its diversity.
* 4:8 Paul cites Psalm 68:19. However, he does so in a form that does not match any Hebrew or Greek manuscript that we have. In place of “he gave” the other manuscripts read “you received.” Later rabbinic tradition had interpreted this passage as Moses ascending Mt. Sinai and giving the law. Paul sees it as referring to the Ascension of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit.
* 4:9 “Lower region” may refer either to the earth in opposition to the heavens or to the abode of the dead (Hades).
* 4:11 Paul adds an ecclesiological dimension by interpreting the gifts of Psalm 69:19 as church offices. This list is not to be confused with similar lists in Paul’s letters (Rom 12:6- 8; 1 Cor 12: 8-11;28). Those other lists are actually lists of charisms bestowed by the Holy Spirit on individuals not of church offices. While the term pastor (shepherd) is used elsewhere in the New Testament (Acts 20:28, John 21:15-17; 1 Peter 5:7), this is the only place where it is used as a title for a church official.
* 4:13 The emphasis in the Greek form used here is not on maleness but on adulthood. This is in contrast to the childhood mentioned in the next verse. The adulthood is measured in relation to the fullness of Christ.
Gospel Reading: Mark 16: 15-20
15 He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. 18 They will pick up serpents (with their hands), and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. 20 But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.
NOTES on Gospel:
* The Gospel of Mark has at least 2 endings, even more if you count the less well attested ones. This reading is taken from one of the endings (16: 9-20) that is considered to be part of the canonically accepted body of inspired scripture but was probably not original. Many important manuscripts omit it and the language and style does not seem to match the rest of Mark.
It is likely that the Gospel of Mark originally ended at verse 8 but was thought by first generation Christians to be incomplete and stylistically harsh when compared to the other gospels which were written later. This longer ending consists essentially of summary statements derived from the other gospels and early Christian traditional material.
* 16:15 This is a command to do what was foretold in Mark 13:10. It parallels Mat 28:18-20 and Col 1:23.
* 16:17 This parallels Mat 10:1. See also Acts 1:8; 2:4.
* 16:18 Parallel in Luke 10:19. See Acts 28:3-6 and Tim 4:14.
* 4:19 Compare this with Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:3-14; 2:33. </font