7 Easter, Year A: He Rides in the Heavens

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Sunday’s Readings | May 21, 2023

Acts 1:6-14
Ps. 68:1-10, 33-36
1 Pet. 4:12-14, 5:6-11
John 17:1-11

At the Ascension, “as [the disciples] were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). He seemed to vanish in death, but then rose on the third day, and was seen by as many as 5,000 (1 Cor. 15). His real physical presence and the evidence of his wounds, no doubt, strengthened the disciples and renewed their hope that he was the one to “restore the kingdom of Israel” (Acts 1:6). They needed only to know the time when he would restore all things. But Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). So often, faith is the patient discomfort of “not knowing.”

Instead, the disciples wait, and we must each wait for the unknown moment of the Spirit’s visitation. Indeed, certain appointed men and women gather in one place and devote themselves to prayer as the Church waiting to be born. “When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers” (Acts 1:13-14). They no doubt felt, among other things, this bitter pain — that “[Jesus] is no longer in the world” (John 17:11).

The disciples are in the world, whereas Jesus has passed through the celestial spheres. Jesus “rides upon the heavens … He rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens … his strength is in the skies” (Ps. 68:4, 34-35). Jesus returns to the glory he shared with the Father from before the world existed. Are we then alone? Do we live behind locked doors for fear of the world, keeping company for the slender solace of shared sorrow? This was, for a time, true of the disciples, so it must assuredly be true at times for us.

We are not, however, without hope. Jesus promises the disciples, “[Y]ou will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Now, that very same Spirit, the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son, the Spirit sent by the Father for the continuation of Christ’s presence on earth, lives and abides in us. Indeed, as St. Paul says, “It is that very same Spirit bearing witness to our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16). Moreover, the Spirit is, in a sense, a more radical and intense experience of Christ. “[I]t is to your advantage,” Jesus says, “that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).

Just as Jesus pitched his tent among us in his earthly ministry (John 1:14), the Spirit of the risen Lord makes every disciple and the Church collectively a tent of meeting. “Do you not know,” St. Paul asks, “that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?” (1 Cor. 6:18).

By the power of the Spirit, Jesus is with us, wholly and always. Still, we may profitably think of him ascending on high, where he is making intercession for us (Rom. 8:34). He is, we might imagine, even reciting our names. “Everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8).

Look It Up: 1 Peter 1:6

Think About It: He will exalt you in due time.


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