In the Eastern Church there is a story of Satan trying to regain entry into Heaven. He sees his chance in the days between Jesus’ death and resurrection and the moment of his eventual return to the Father. Thus before the ascension of the Lord, that is before Jesus re-enters Heaven, the story goes that Satan disguises himself as the risen Jesus, rushes towards heaven and attempts entry.
As he approaches the gates of heaven he announces himself to the angel guarding the gates and claims that he is Jesus risen. The guardian angel simply says – ‘if you are Jesus risen, show me the wounds of your Passion’. And of course the devil has omitted to mark his body with the signs of the suffering and death of Jesus – signs which are also part of his glorified and risen new life. So Satan’s plan fails because he has omitted to relate the return of Jesus to the realm of heaven from his mission to bring the Good News to us, a mission which culminated in his suffering and death for us.
So we might focus on today’s feast in light of its wider meaning.
Indeed in earlier times the feasts of the Ascension of the Lord, Pentecost and the Resurrection day itself were seen as merely elements of the one great feast Easter.
In such a light it is possible to see today’s Feast – The Ascension – as a part of the great mystery of the resurrection. So although this feast has a separate focus it is but one part of a greater mystery.
If we now turn to the gospel chosen for today’s liturgy we can reflect more precisely on the scene depicting Jesus’ return to the Father.
Immediately we see that the gospel invites us to listen once again to the message of Jesus. In his final encouragement and direction to the disciples Jesus commissions them to preach and to witness to a message of reconciliation. They, and we today, are to be about creating harmony, community and peace amongst peoples and to free them of burdens that might threaten to overwhelm them. But Jesus goes further, for the disciples are not be alone in this mission, rather they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who will fill them with power from on high.
The response of the disciples is one of prayerful gratitude. And perhaps that is a key message for us too.
As with the first disciples, so too with us. We are not alone in continuing the mission of Jesus, we have the Spirit to guide us and we are given the very same commission. Let us go about continuing the work of Jesus confident that the Spirit will guide and direct us in very moment of this service.
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia.