Today marks forty days after Easter: the day we observe the Feast of the Ascension. The Gospel of Luke in chapter 24: 51-52 provides a narrative of Christ’s ascension into heaven, to sit on the right hand of God the Father:
"And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy."
Paul in Acts 1:8-9 describes Jesus’ words to the disciples and his ascension:
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”.
And in Mark 16:19:
19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.
John 20:17 reads:
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”
During the forty days prior to the ascension, we read in Corinthians 15:3-8 that Jesus appeared to more than 500 of his brothers and sisters. Paul lists Christ’s appearance to Peter, then to the “Twelve”, then to 500 at one time, then to James, his brother, then to “all the Apostles”, to the martyr Stephen, and finally to Paul himself.
Other Gospel writers describe additional pre-ascension encounters with Jesus. Matthew recounts two post-resurrection appearances, the first to Mary Magdalene, and “the other Mary” at the tomb, and then to all the disciples on a mountain in Galilee. Paul in the Book of Acts describes Jesus appearing to him during his travel from Jerusalem to Damascus, a journey meant to effect the arrest of Christ followers.
His encounter with Jesus is a truly remarkable event that marked Paul’s conversion to Christianity, after years of denouncing and persecuting the church of God. From Paul’s conversion we get the metaphorical reference to the “ Road to Damascus”, which refers to a sudden or radical change of heart or mind, apart from its Christian connotation.
The Passion of Christ is the cause of our salvation, and Christ’s ascension represents the triumphant beginning of his glorious promise to the world. May we find hope in that ever-unfolding promise, today.
O God of earth and sky,
as Jesus came among us in Bethlehem to raise us up to heaven,
so today we recall his departing from us at Jerusalem to be in all places.
Though he is hidden from our sight,
enable us to abide in him
by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit,
until his mercy and grace fill your whole creation. Amen.
Prayer, © 2000 Order of Saint Luke Publications. Used with permission.