Sunday Gospel and Readings Commentary

REFLECTIONS ON THE READINGS FOR

THE FEAST OF THE ASCENSION, CYCLE A

Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 46:2-3, 6-9; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:16-20

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The Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord might also be called the Feast of the Exaltation of Christ.  There is a pattern of descending and ascending in the rhythm of the Christian year – of God with us and we with God.  For the writer of the Letter to the Ephesians, ‘The one who rose higher than all the heavens to fill all things is none other than the one who descended’ (Eph 4:10).  Interestingly, this is reflected in an early tradition of the Church of Jerusalem keeping the Feast of the Ascension at Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus.  On this day, the meaning of Easter leads to the very heart of God, as Christ, the first-fruits of the new creation, takes our human nature to the heart of the divine glory.

     Of all the New Testament writers, it is Luke who provides the pattern for our Christian year for, in his gospel and its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, Easter runs for 50 days to Pentecost – and the Lord ascends so that the gift of the Spirit may come.  Earlier teaching had presupposed that there was an intimate link between the events of Easter and the establishment of the kingdom of God and the return of Christ. Luke, writing after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, when such a hope had begun to fade, sets this link aside by inserting an extended period between the departure of Christ and his return in glory:  the era of the Church, an era in which we still live.  The way Luke does this is to stress the centrality of the ascension.  The departure of Christ at the end of his gospel and the beginning of Acts leaves the stage clear for the era of the Church/Spirit, which has to take its course until the return of Christ.  In Luke’s Gospel, the ascension becomes the point at which it is deemed appropriate to “worship” Jesus.  Until then, his followers neither recognize the significance of the resurrection, nor appreciate the full import of his life.  Today we read from Matthew’s Gospel where the lingering doubt of some is recorded: “though some hesitated”. Matthew’s account has close parallels in Deuteronomy 31:14-15,23 and Joshua 1:1-9, which are all about God, through Moses, commissioning Joshua.   Joshua is told to “go” and cross the Jordan; to “act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you”.  And the passage’s conclusion promises God’s presence: “for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go”.  Matthew clearly borrows from these traditions about Moses.

     The cloud is emphasized in Acts because it not only receives Jesus, but also veils him from the disciples.  It is their perplexity that dominates the Acts story and that is countered by the gift of the Spirit and the success of the mission.  The New Testament is cradled in the Hebrew Scriptures and it is these Scriptures which give us the clue to grasp the meaning of the New.  Such a truth enables us to understand that it is no passing cloud that receives Jesus out of sight of the apostles, but the sign of the divine glory and, importantly, an echo of the cloud of God’s presence in the tent of meeting in the wilderness, in the Exodus journey, and, more recently, on the mountain of the Transfiguration.  The apostles who see the Lord carried up echo Elisha when he saw Elijah carried to heaven in a whirlwind, and received what he had prayed for:  the double portion of Elijah’s spirit, as his heir.  Just so, at Pentecost, the Spirit will come to empower the new community of the church, the presence of Christ in the world and the continuation of his mission.

 

This week’s teaching commentary was prepared by

Margaret Shepherd, NDS

margaretashepherd@gmail.com

Copyright 2017

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PLEASE NOTE: The weekly Gospel commentaries represent the research and creative thought of their authors, and are meant to stimulate deeper thinking about the meaning of the Sunday Scriptures. While they draw upon the study methods and sources employed by the Bat Kol Institute, the views and conclusions expressed in these commentaries are solely those of their authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of Bat Kol. Questions, comments and feedback are always welcome.

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Bat Kol Institute for Jewish Studies, Jerusalem

(1983-2017)

Christians Studying the Bible within its Jewish milieu, using Jewish Sources.

gill@batkol.info  Website: www.batkol.info

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