Note: In some dioceses, the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord is moved from Thursday to replace the Seventh Sunday of Easter.
A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
This reading describes the episode in which the risen Jesus, who had appeared alive to his apostles on several occasions, finally disappearing. The author reports that “he was lifted up and a cloud took him from their sight.’’ The apostles, as one might expect, were dumbfounded, having never witnessed or even imagined such a thing. Then, the account goes on, two men in white confronted the apostles and asked, “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?” The men went on to say that Jesus would return, which is part of our faith. That abrupt question—“Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”—didn’t imply that they should go back to their former trades and wait for Jesus to reappear. On the contrary, it implied that they should get busy spreading the word that Jesus had conquered sin and death, was alive, and was inviting all people to encounter him and carry on his work of healing, generosity, and justice. It’s the same invitation he extends to us.
This is an exuberant psalm that urges those who believe in God, “clap your hands, shout to God with cries of gladness.” God has given us existence itself, life, the earth and everything in it, and he has given us spirits that will live forever. Do we believe this? No wonder we should clap and shout!
A reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians
Speaking of exuberance, Paul was certainly in high spirits when he wrote this passage about what God has carried out in Jesus, “raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, 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.” There was a time when people would bow their heads or remove their hats—if they were wearing hats—if they heard or spoke the name of Jesus. If we have lost that kind of exuberance over the holy name, let’s try to recapture it!
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 17: 11b-19)
Aha! So Mark tells us the rest of the story: The apostles didn’t go on staring at the sky, and they didn’t go back to their former trades. On the contrary, Mark writes, “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. But they went forth and preached everywhere….” And God’s plan wasn’t that the preaching should stop when those apostles were gone, but rather that others should continue proclaiming the Good News of Jesus, raised from the dead—others including us, the apostles of the 21st century. That’s what the liturgy means when it tells us at the end of each Mass to “Go.” Go and preach the gospel.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Charles Paolino is managing editor at RENEW International and a permanent deacon of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey.