We move back to Luke’s gospel from that of John for the feast of the Ascension. For Luke the Ascension is like a bridge between two eras: it moves the disciples from the time of Jesus to that of the Church. The gospel today ends Jesus’ Resurrection appearances with the Ascension; the first reading (Luke’s opening passage of the Acts of the Apostles) has the same scene. Both are concerned with the commissioning of the disciples to be Jesus’ “witnesses” to all nations.
In the thought pattern of the first century, the Gospel of Luke and his Acts of the Apostles speak of Jesus as being “carried up to heaven” and, when after the time of the Emperor Constantine, a church of the Ascension was built on the Mount of Olives, the dome of the church was left open to the skies to commemorate the event. But John’s gospel does not separate the Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost; his gospel emphasises Jesus returning to the presence of the Father. Maybe today the realisation of being brought with Jesus into God’s presence will have more meaning for us than the spatial imagery. So what we are commemorating in this feast, then, is the fact of Jesus being “in the bosom of the father” (Jn 1:18) there to intercede for us and continually sending the promised Spirit – the Spirit who journeyed with the disciples, as Luke envisages them in the Acts of the Apostles, going out from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.
But first of all they are told to “wait” for the outpouring of that Spirit and they do so at the end of today’s gospel by being “continually in the Temple praising God.”
Waiting on God in prayer was a constant in Dominic’s life: a very ancient account of his praying called “The Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic” show how he prayed as a whole person with body and spirit together. His one aim was to praise God in contemplation, so that he could then communicate what he learnt in prayer to those around him.
Sr Celine Mangan O.P