An ASCENSION REFLECTION – SMAA Christchurch – 17 May 2015 – (Father Ron Smith)
St John’s Gospel tells us that, in the Upper Room on Resurrection Day, Jesus had virtually ordained the male disciples for their mission, when he called down the Holy Spirit upon them. With these words: “As the Father sent me, so I send you”. He then breathed on them, saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit, for those whose sins you forgive they are forgiven; and for those whose sins you retain they are retained” – words which later came to be incorporated into a sacrament of Ordination to the Priesthood.
However, he was later to tell them to wait in Jerusalem, for what the Father had promised. “It is”, he said, “what you heard me speak about. John baptized with water, but you – not many days from now – will be baptized with the Holy Spirit”. So, we might ask, if Jesus had already called down the power of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, in his first appearance to them in the upper Room on the Day of his Resurrection; what was he speaking about when he told them they would need to wait for the Spirit’s Baptism, to come upon them from on high? Well, we do know that the word Baptism refers, in Christian terms, to the ritual dying and rising of a person with Christ that occurs in our Baptism at the Font. If we are baptised as children, we are then later offered the opportunity to undertake the rite of Confirmation by a Bishop, wherein we, as thinking adults, can actually affirm the gift of the Spirit already given to us in our baptism – thus stirring up and appropriating for ourselves what we call the gift of faith. This might be called – in accordance with certain references in the Scriptures – our opportunity to be ‘Baptised in the Holy Spirit”
Maybe, then, from that example, we could understand better the situation of the Disciples of Jesus, having received the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room on Easter Day, still needed that gift to be fully activated on the Day of Pentecost, when, as Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit would be poured out in power on those assembled in Jerusalem for the Jewish Feast that would follow 10 days after his Ascension. We only have to read the Gospels to understand the importance of the Ascension of Jesus to the Father. He had to leave them before the Holy Spirit could be fully released in resurrection power, not only on the disciples, but also upon the assembled Christians in Jerusalem. “I am going to the Father, he told them; because if I do not go the Spirit cannot come to you. But when he comes, he will lead you into all the truth – about Me, about sin and about what righteousness really is” This was to be their Baptism in the Holy Spirit
In what we now call the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus, he then addresses the Father in these words: “Holy Father, keep those you have given to me true to your name, so that they may be one like us. While I was with them, I kept them true to your name… But now I am coming to you, and while still in the world I say these things to share my joy with them to the full”. And then he asked the Father to protect them from the Evil One. “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world, and for their sake I consecrate myself, so that they, too, may be consecrated in truth” In the liturgy of the Church, then, we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus – not as a final farewell to his influence in the world he came to redeem, but rather as the completion of his earthly ministry, and the beginning of that mission which He was to inaugurate among the Apostles and those who would come to faith in him through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on them at the Feast of Pentecost.
That pouring out of the Holy Spirit – begun on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, has been continued ever since in the Baptismal ritual of the Church. The Spirit within has been stirred into effectiveness for mission in the ritual of our confirmation; but how many of us are really aware of the consequences of that gifting we have all received? It has been bestowed on all of us who have been baptised into Christ, but we all have to appropriate it and spend it in our loving and nurturing of other people with whom we are brought into contact in our lives. We are told in the gospels that “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” – not the freedom to please ourselves only, but to please the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – from whom we receive empowerment in our reception of the Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of Jesus, to better become, day by day, the perfect Image and likeness of the God by Whom we have been created.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful; re-kindle within us the fire of your love, through the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
God has gone up with a merry noise, Alleluia! He has gone up with the Sound of the Trumpet, Alleluia, Alleluia!