Seventh Sunday of Easter: Ascension Sunday

Reflection: The truth about the Ascension


Many New Testament stories appear to be variations of one another with minor adjustments.

Not so Jesus’ ascension.

What the different accounts have in common is that Christ appeared among his disciples and missioned them to continue his work. (In the Gospel stories, Mary Magdalene is the only person Christ appeared to individually.)

According to John, Jesus appeared three times, commissioning the disciples to forgive and instructing Peter to feed his sheep. John mentions no ascension. Matthew describes how Jesus called the disciples to a mountaintop from where he sent them to spread the Gospel to the whole world and to baptize and pledged to remain with them until the end of time. Luke ends his Gospel with Jesus departing from Bethany, telling the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until the promise of the Father would fall on them. In the Acts of the Apostles, the second volume of his Gospel, Luke begins where he left off, narrating the departure and presence of the risen Lord with more detail than anywhere else.

According to most scholars, Mark ended his Gospel with verse 16:8, saying that the women fled from the empty tomb and said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. Mark apparently ended this way to provoke his community.

Writing around the year 70, not long after Peter’s martyrdom, Mark’s audience knew persecution and had reason to be frightened. Mark wanted to jolt them beyond their fear. Mark’s community knew that the women really did spread the word; the Gospel was being preached. Still, Mark was warning the community that if they remained afraid or used any other excuse to avoid giving witness to the risen Lord, the message would disappear. 

Unsatisfied with Mark’s disappointing ending, later scribes wrote more “adequate” conclusions and added some spectacular signs among those who preached the Gospel message. We hear this version today. 

Examining Luke’s account of the Ascension in Acts, we note that before saying that Jesus promised the disciples that they would be baptized in the Holy Spirit, he gave his followers “instructions through the Holy Spirit.” Then, as he was about to be taken up, Jesus again promised, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”

Throughout his Gospel, Luke mentions the Spirit no fewer than 15 times. Luke depicts the Spirit’s presence from the moment an angel announced the birth of John the Baptist through Jesus’ ministry and beyond. Luke presents the reception of the Spirit at Pentecost as the apex, not the first or last activity of the Spirit among Jesus’ disciples. For Luke, the Spirit’s presence in and to the disciples is a process, not a once-for-all event.

In his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul gives helpful ideas about the Spirit-power the disciples received. Paul teaches that the power to carry out Christ’s mission bestows wisdom, revelation, knowledge of Christ, enlightenment, hope, and a share in the riches of Christ’s glory. For Paul, these qualities summarize the effects of following Christ and sharing his Spirit.

No matter how they depict it, each Gospel proclaims that the risen Christ made himself present to his disciples and handed over his mission with the promise that they would have the grace and strength to carry it out. This tells us that the feast of the Ascension is not about absence, but mission.

Luke’s narrative shows that the Spirit of God was uniquely active even before the angel gave Mary the mission to be Mother of God and continues working in all who are willing to let Christ become present through them. The feast of the Ascension commissions Christ’s followers through all ages, reminding us that Christ’s mission continues through us and that the grace to accomplish it remains ever available to us. This is the point Luke made by saying that Jesus instructed the disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit. They knew the Spirit’s presence, but needed to grow in it as they started to do what Jesus did.

We might note that the message of the Ascension is particularly apt as we participate in the synod on synodality. Jesus gives us his mission, and also the Spirit that empowers us to accomplish it. Like the disciples sent to wait in Jerusalem, instead of planning and carrying out what we think is right, our times call us to listen to the Spirit Christ bestows on all disciples. 

The Spirit of Christ calls forth an innumerable variety of expressions of Christ’s mission. To the extent that we are open, the Spirit will keep awakening us to the richness discoverable only in a community of believers on mission.

Reading I

(Acts 1: 15-17, 20a, 20c-26)

Peter stood up in the midst of the brothers
— there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons
in the one place —.
He said, “My brothers,
the Scripture had to be fulfilled
which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand
through the mouth of David, concerning Judas,
who was the guide for those who arrested Jesus.
He was numbered among us
and was allotted a share in this ministry.
“For it is written in the Book of Psalms:
May another take his office.

“Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men
who accompanied us the whole time
the Lord Jesus came and went among us,
beginning from the baptism of John
until the day on which he was taken up from us,
become with us a witness to his resurrection.”
So they proposed two, Judas called Barsabbas,
who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.
Then they prayed,
“You, Lord, who know the hearts of all,
show which one of these two you have chosen
to take the place in this apostolic ministry
from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.”
Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias,
and he was counted with the eleven apostles.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 103: 1-2, 11-12, 19-20)

R. The Lord has set his throne in heaven.

Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
R. The Lord has set his throne in heaven.

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he put our transgressions from us.
R. The Lord has set his throne in heaven.

The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.
Bless the LORD, all you his angels,
you mighty in strength, who do his bidding.
R. The Lord has set his throne in heaven.

Reading II

(I John 4: 11-16)

Beloved, if God so loved us,
we also must love one another.
No one has ever seen God.
Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us,
and his love is brought to perfection in us.

This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us,
that he has given us of his Spirit.
Moreover, we have seen and testify
that the Father sent his Son as savior of the world.
Whoever acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God,
God remains in him and he in God.
We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.

God is love, and whoever remains in love
remains in God and God in him.


(John 17: 11b-19)

Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying:
“Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me,
so that they may be one just as we are one.
When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me,
and I guarded them, and none of them was lost
except the son of destruction,
in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
But now I am coming to you.
I speak this in the world
so that they may share my joy completely.
I gave them your word, and the world hated them,
because they do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
I do not ask that you take them out of the world
but that you keep them from the evil one.
They do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.
As you sent me into the world,
so I sent them into the world.
And I consecrate myself for them,
so that they also may be consecrated in truth.”