The Ascension without an ascension

Death is a phenomenon we are too familiar with. But resurrection? That’s one step too far!


Occasion: Ascension Sunday

You can find the full readings here. This Lectio is based on the Gospel reading, Matthew 28:16-20.


The eleven disciples went to Galilee,
to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.
When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
Then Jesus approached and said to them,
“All power 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 behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Standout Words and Phrases

but they doubted, all power, the name, I am with you always


So I suppose the first and most obvious thing to point out is that if you struggle with your belief in the resurrection of Christ, you are apparently in good company:

When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.

This, even though they saw him raise Lazarus from the dead. This, even though the prophet Ezekiel speaks of God’s raising people from the dead. Curious, isn’t it? The disciples seem to have no trouble doubting Jesus’ death on the cross: death is a phenomenon we are too familiar with. But resurrection? Whoa, there, that’s one step too far!

Even more curious is this statement:


Nothing there, right? Right! I use that to highlight the fact that the Church has knowingly chosen for Ascension Sunday a reading from a gospel that lacks an ascension narrative! Of the four Gospels, only two describe the ascension (Mark and Luke); the other two end more or less with one of a sequence of post-resurrection appearances, in all of which at least some disciples are baffled, surprised, or doubtful. (Bafflement, surprise, and confusion are par for the course if you know the gospels, but I digress.)

So perhaps what matters most is what Jesus says. In this case we encounter a number of interesting assertions.

All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Such a statement would have been a direct affront to the Roman empire, which saw itself as the expression of divine will, going so far as to declare repeatedly that a Caesar was divine, and compel its subjects to worship him. The Christian therefore knows that there is always a greater power than the state, and that the state cannot compel him to do what is wrong.

But it also seems a bit strong of a statement: all power? Receiving power makes sense: Jesus can receive power only if he is human. But he receive all power only if he is somehow able to share in the divine nature: no mere, finite human can exercise all power.

[B]aptiz[e] them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

There’s an interesting turn of phrase: one name for the three? Yet there it is in the plain Greek; το ομονα, “the name.” This makes sense only in light of the Trinity, the idea that the one divine nature expresses itself in three divine persons, and therefore has one name.

[Teach] them to observe all that I have commanded you.

Christianity has content, and Christ gave an entire sermon’s worth of commandments, which both fulfill the law of God that had been handed down over the centuries and clarify misconceptions regarding them that persist to the present time. Christ would not tell our pastors to teach their flocks these commandments if he actually wanted the pastor to remain silent about the wolf devouring the flock, or if he wanted the flock to disregard the pastor’s guidance and wander off heedless of the wolf’s belly. Merely being a Christian does not suffice to make a saint.

I am with you always, even to the end of the world.

Jesus promises not to prevent the end of the world, but to remain with us through it. This promise consoled the martyrs facing bloody persecutions throughout history; it comforted the white” martyrs of 20th century bloodless persecutions; it should likewise encourage us who face little more than crosses of inconvenience. Christ is with us always; we have but to turn to him and follow. We may have struggle with doubts, silence, weakness, difficult metaphysics, and hard teachings, but Christ is with us always, because his ascension does not mean that he leaves us as orphans.

And for that part of the story, tune in next week!

Author: Jack Perry

Catholic. Mathematician. Square monomial diagram in a round avatar's circle.

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