Monday, May 13, 2013

Scripture Readings: The Ascension of the Lord.

First Reading: Acts 1: 1-11

In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”

Second Reading: Ephesians 1: 17-23

Brothers and sisters: May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might: which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.

Gospel: Luke 24: 46-53

Jesus said to his disciples: “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.


“And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.”

Note the interesting clause used to describe the Church, ‘which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.’

The implications of this brief statement are staggering, if we take the trouble to draw them out. The Church is Christ’s body; that much we hear often enough. But Paul goes on to describe it as ‘the fullness of’ Jesus (understanding “the one who fills all things in every way” to refer to Jesus).

What does this mean? Consider it in light of Jesus’s last words to His disciples at the beginning of Acts, just before He is taken up to Heaven:

“And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.”

The Church, then, as represented by the Apostles, is Christ’s voice on Earth; it is the continuation of His mission. We saw this even before His passion, when He sent out the twelve and then the seventy-two to spread His word throughout Judea (Luke 9: 1-6, 10: 1-20).

But this is more than just a PR effort or a messaging mission. The Church isn’t just the means of telling people about Jesus. In effect, she is Jesus. The Church is Christ’s body; she is the continuation of His incarnation. Not only is Jesus the head of the Church, but Jesus is truly present in every individual church and chapel through the Eucharist.

And there’s still a deeper way. Consider what happens when we receive the Eucharist. When we eat or drink anything, it is broken down in our body and the nutrients are then used to repair and build our cells. Therefore, when we eat His body and drink His blood, He remains in us, not just in a spiritual sense, but in a literal, corporeal sense. Literally, His body is used to build up part of our own body. Therefore, each of us who receives the Eucharist carries Christ’s body within us. We are literally part of His body.

The implication I take from the ‘fullness’ clause is that the Church is not a ‘holding pattern,’ so to speak. She isn’t just a means of remembering Jesus’ work, or even continuing it. The Church is the ‘fullness’ of Jesus’ work; she is what He came to create: to be. Jesus didn’t just come for the sake of the comparatively few people He was able to minister to while on Earth; He came for the whole world. But how could He minister to the whole world while He was in the flesh? By ascending to Heaven and sending out the Church, He becomes present to the entire world. The Church, then, is the fullness of Christ’s ministry.

That’s why Jesus had to ascend to the Father, and why He commanded Mary Magdalene ‘do not touch me’ (John 20: 17). The time Jesus spent on the Earth in the flesh was the foundation; the seed He planted. But now the time had come for it to sprout and the disciples had to ‘let Him go’ in order to receive Him in His fullness as the Church. Because the Church is how He would spread throughout the whole world; the Church is Christ on Earth.

Vive Christus Rex!

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