The account of the Ascension of our Lord in today’s gospel is in stark contrast to St Luke’s version in the first reading. St Mark does not waste words. Yes, he tells us that the disciples go on to do great work, but we know that it was not as simple and straightforward as that. There were the days of fear and hiding before the coming of the Holy Spirit, who is not so much as mentioned here.
St Luke’s enthusiasm in wanting to get it all down quickly for posterity infects us with the excitement and newness of it all. His much fuller account of the Ascension creates a picture that our imagination can visualise, an even more dramatic picture than that in his Gospel, where Jesus simply “left them”, no angels, no disappearing up into the sky. And in Acts, the Holy Spirit will come, “not many days from now”.
Because we are familiar with ‘the big picture’, and we know that it was not all plain sailing, we recognise the significance of what St Paul says in the second reading: “I, the prisoner in the Lord, implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation”. But, Paul assures us, each one of us has been given our own share of grace.
Our faith in the Resurrection, the Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit, however strong, needs this reassurance, as we recognise only too well how apt St Paul’s advice to the Ephesians is for us and for all in the Church and in this pandemic world today. Yes, there is some bleakness in St Mark and St Paul in these readings, but let us allow ourselves to be infected by St Luke and by the psalmist, and let us clap our hands and cry to God with shouts of joy! God is king of all the earth, and truly reigns on his holy throne. And with the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, let us not forget that “….the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”
Sr. Lucina Montague OP