Homily for the Ascension of the Lord - Year A - Mt. 28:16-20
Canon Dr. Daniel Meynen
" The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, «All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.» "
" The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted. "
Each year, the Church proposes to us a different gospel reading for the day of the Lord's Ascension into Heaven. This time, the reading consists of the last words of Jesus as related to us by Saint Matthew in his gospel. But each year, on this feast, we read the same passage from the Acts of the Apostles, written by Saint Luke, in which the last moment spent on earth by Jesus Christ our Lord is clearly described: "As they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight." (Ac. 1:9)
The passage from Saint Matthew doesn't describe to us the Lord's Ascension into Heaven: it tells us only of one of Jesus' last apparitions to his disciples. Nevertheless, the words of the Lord that are related here by Saint Matthew are very meaningful and have a strong connection with today's Mystery. Indeed, just after Jesus had left the earth, angels appeared to the disciples and said to them: "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." (Ac. 1:11)
Let us note two connections between these two passages from Scripture: Galilee, and the end of the world. In the passage from the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples are called: "Men of Galilee." Now, Jesus had expressly commanded the eleven to meet him in Galilee on a certain mountain: "The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them." (Mt. 28:16) Galilee is indeed directly linked with Christ's Resurrection, which, however, took place in Judea; thus, on Easter morning, an angel said to the holy women who had rushed to the tomb in order to honor the Savior's body: "Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you." (Mark 16:6-7)
The Return of the Lord at the end of time was mysteriously announced by the angels from the very instant when Jesus left the earth, where he had spent thirty three years of his life. "This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." And Jesus himself, in the words recorded by Saint Matthew, announced a mysterious presence on earth - his own - until his return at the time of the final Resurrection: "And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." There are therefore two very narrow connections between these two passages from Scripture, which are there precisely to help us to understand a little better today's Mystery, the Ascension of the Lord into Heaven!
" «All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.» "
These words of the Lord: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" are true, but they were not fulfilled during the earthly life of Jesus. On the contrary, for thirty years, the Lord was under the authority of his family: "He was obedient to them." (Luke 2:51) Then, Jesus spent about three years ministring to the crowds in total obscurity, always fleeing the glory and honors they wanted to bestow upon him: "Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself." (John 6:15) There's no need to speak about the ignominy of the Passion he had to undergo; as he said himself: "My kingship is not of this world." (John 18:36)
It was only, therefore, from the time of his entry into Heaven, the Mystery we commemorate today, that Jesus received from his Father "all authority in heaven and on earth." On this most noteworthy day, Jesus was proclaimed the King of the Universe, the Lord of Lords, the Master of heaven and earth! But on this day, though Jesus truly became the King of heaven and earth, full of glory and majesty, it was only in a spiritual manner: for those who recognized him as such were the angels and the souls of the saints of Heaven! Now, this is not sufficient for Christ, who is at once true God and true Man, that is to say, who really belongs as much to the order of spiritual creatures as to that of bodily creatures. Therefore, because he is fully a Man, he must receive the glory and honor of his kingship in a real bodily and material way, visible everywhere and by all!
That's why the texts of today's liturgy speak to us of Galilee and of the end of the world. Indeed, on what Galilean mountain was the body of Jesus glorified with his soul if not on Mount Tabor, where Christ was transfigured, in advance, before his disciples: "His face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light" (Mt. 17:2)? And what is the only certain and prophesied event when all the men and women of the earth will universally see the glory of their Lord and Master, if not the time of the end, when the Lord will return in the same way as he went to Heaven on the day of his Ascension: "For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man" (Mt. 24:27)?
Let us therefore celebrate with joy this great Mystery of the Lord's Ascension into Heaven, for the glory of Christ will also be that which he promises to us for all eternity! In anticipation, thanks to the sacrament of his Body and his Blood, Jesus can give us this glory without end: let us ask him for it with confidence, through the intercession of his Most Holy Mother, Mary, the Mother of God and of the Church!