On Mount Olivet, a hill outside Jerusalem, forty days after His Resurrection, Our Lord spoke to the disciples, telling them how the Holy Spirit would descend upon them. "And when He had said this, He was lifted up before their eyes, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. And while they were gazing up to Heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white garments, and said to them, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up to Heaven? This Jesus Who has been taken from you into Heaven, will come in the same way as you have seen Him going up to Heaven'" (Acts 1:9-11).
Christ ascended, body and soul, into Heaven on Ascension day, forty days after His Resurrection.
The Ascension took place from the Mount of Olives. Christ's Apostles and disciples were present. It was full daylight.
He gave His followers His last instructions. Then He raised His hands and blessed them. He told them to preach the Gospel to all nations, and promised to be with them to the end of the world.
While all looked on, He was raised up, by His own power, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.
"Now He led them out towards Bethany, and...was carried up into Heaven" (Luke 24:50-51).
The disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy. Their Master had returned to Heaven in glory, and His arrival there had opened to His followers the Heavenly gates.
He had earned for men infinite grace, so that they were now able to attain the friendship of God Himself. Christ the King had gone home to prepare a place for men in Heaven (cf. John 14:16; 2 Cor. 1:7). We celebrate the feast of the Ascension forty days after Easter, on Ascension Thursday.
Christ remained on earth forty days after His Resurrection to prove that He had truly risen from the dead, and to complete the instruction of the Apostles. Christ's resurrection is an undoubted fact on which rests the Christian faith. St. Paul says: "If Christ has not risen, vain then is our preaching, vain too is your faith" (1 Corinthians 15:14). And according to Saint John, an eyewitness; "Many other signs also Jesus worked in the sight of His disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God" (John 20: 30-31).
In the first place, Christ really died. His death was witnessed by many, both friends and enemies. It was proved by the soldier who plunged his spear into His side. It was communicated officially to Pilate. His bones were not broken, because He was found already dead. His Mother and disciples would never have buried Him had they suspected the least chance of life.
Some unbelievers urge that Christ was dead only in appearance after an interval recovered from His swoon and left the grave. The loss of blood following the scourging alone would have been enough to cause death, not to mention the wounds He received on the cross.
In the second place, Christ really came to life. On the first Easter morning He appeared to Mary Magdalen and the other women who sought Him at the sepulchre. Then He appeared to Saint Peter. In the evening He walked with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. At night He appeared to the assembled Apostles.
Nor were these witnesses easily deceived. The Apostles did not at first believe the women who told them the Lord had risen. They would not even believe their own sense, thinking the risen Savior was a ghost. Christ had to call for something to eat, to prove that He was not a ghost. Saint Thomas refused to believe the other ten Apostles, who had seen Christ first. He only believed when Our Lord appeared to him and bade him touch His wounds.
The Jews bribed the guards to say that while they were asleep, the disciples had stolen the body of Christ.
Such an act was made impossible by Christ's enemies themselves. They had sealed and guarded the tomb. "So they went and made the sepulchre secure, sealing the stone, and setting the guard" (Matthew 27:66). Even supposing the guards to have fallen asleep, the great stone which covered the sepulchre could not have been moved without waking at least some of the guards. Finally, it is a remarkable circumstance that the guards were not punished for this breach of duty.
When we say that Christ sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, we mean that Our Lord as God is equal to the Father, and that as man He shares above all the saints in the glory of His Father, and exercises for all eternity the supreme authority of a King over all creatures.
Christ as God is equal to the Father in all things. But even as man Christ is only next to God.
He is above all the angels and saints. To sit at the right hand of anybody is a mark of honor from that person. "Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thy enemies Thy footstool" (Psalm 109:1,2).
Christ ascended into Heaven in order to:
(a) Enter into the glory He had merited.
(b) Send down the Holy Spirit on His Church.
(c) Be our intercessor with the Father.
(d) Prepare a place for us in Heaven.
When we say that Christ will come from thence to judge the living and the dead, we mean that on the last day Our Lord will come to pronounce a sentence of eternal reward or of eternal punishement on every one who has ever lived in this world.
Jesus Christ will be our Supreme Judge because He is "King of kings and Lord of lords" (Revelation/Apocalypse 17:14).
"For the Son of Man is to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will render to everyone according to his conduct" (Matthew 16:27).
One poor young Man, teaching for three years in the hills and valleys of Galilee, and dying a shameful death, has brought light, love, peace, and hope into men's lives, even the lowliest.
Before Christ the world was the abode of sin and vice, idolatry, polygamy, divorce and slavery. However, the world today, although reformed by Christianity, is far from perfect. This is because many refuse to obey the teachings of Christ. It is our duty to make Christ better known and loved, so that all may "seek first the kingdom of God."
Next Thursday: Sacramental Confession
For previous installments, see APPRECIATING THE PRECIOUS GIFT OF OUR FAITH Archives
Thursday, May 9, 2002
volume 13, no. 89
APPRECIATING THE PRECIOUS GIFT OF THE FAITH