The Rest of the Story
Psalm 47:2-3. 6-9
Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:19-23
In today’s first reading, St. Luke gives the surprising news that there is more of the
story to be told. The story did not end with the empty tomb, or with Jesus’ appearances
to the Apostles over the course of forty days. Jesus’ saving work will have a liturgical
consummation. He is the great high priest, and he has still to ascend to the heavenly
Jerusalem, there to celebrate the feast in the true Holy of Holies.
The truth of this feast shines forth from the Letter to the Hebrews, where we read of the
great high priest’s passing through the heavens, the sinless intercessor’s sacrifice on our
behalf (see Hebrews 4:14-15).
Indeed, his intercession will lead to the Holy Spirit’s descent in fire upon the Church.
Luke spells out that promise in the first reading for the feast of the Ascension: “in a few
days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). Ascension is the preliminary
feast that directs the Church’s attention forward to Pentecost. On that day, salvation
will be complete; for salvation is not simply expiation for sins (that would be wonder
enough), but it is something even greater than that. Expiation is itself a necessary
precondition of our adoption as God’s children. To live that divine life we must receive
the Holy Spirit. To receive the Holy Spirit we must be purified through baptism.
The Responsorial Psalm presents the Ascension in terms familiar from the worship of the
Jerusalem Temple in the days of King Solomon: “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy:
a blare of trumpets for the Lord” (Psalm 47). The priest-king takes his place at the head
of the people, ruling over the nations, establishing peace.
The Epistle strikes a distinctively Paschal note. In the early Church, as today, Easter
was the normal time for the baptism of adult converts. The sacrament was often called
“illumination” or “enlightenment” (see, for example, Hebrews 10:32) because of the light
that came with God’s saving grace. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, speaks in
terms of glory that leads to greater glories still, as Ascension leads to Pentecost: “May
the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,” he writes, as he looks to the divinization of the
believers. Their “hope” is “his inheritance among the holy ones,” the saints who have
been adopted into God’s family and now rule with him at the Father’s right hand.
This is the “good news” the Apostles are commissioned to spread—to the whole world,
to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem—at the first Ascension. It’s the good news we
must spread today.