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Theology 101 >>

A nine part series on the creed

By: Sr. Janet Schaeffler, OP, an Adrian Dominican sister, is Associate Director of the Office for Catechetics/Religious Education of the Archdiocese of Detroit
The creed: part 6
What do we believe about Jesus Christ who ascended into heaven and who judges the living and dead
He ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of God, from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead. “He ascended into heaven ... “
    Years ago I asked a friend why he thought we didn’t celebrate the Ascension more enthusiastically. His reply was because it didn’t fall on a Sunday. (Now, years later, some dioceses celebrate the Ascension on Sunday.) It sounded funny at the time, but recently, reflecting on the meaning of the Ascension, I have realized it’s a “more-than-worth-celebrating” feast of our faith.
    The Ascension is all about the presence, not the absence of Jesus. The apostles did not understand the Ascension to mean that Jesus was no longer with them. They expressed no grief or disappointment. Instead they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” (Lk 24:52) That’s not how you feel when you lose your best friend. The Ascension did not mean they lost something. They gained something. Jesus’ ascension brought Him closer to them and to us than He was before. He left us on that mountain so that He might be with us in Lansing and Washington and Iraq. He was taken from our physical sight so that He might come to us – everyone – wherever we are.

    The Ascension is not about absence. It’s about presence. Jesus told us, “I will be with you all days even to the end of the world.”  The words of the third Eucharistic Prayer for Masses with Children – spoken to God the Father – proclaim this clearly: “Jesus now lives with you in glory, but He is also here on earth, among us.”
    1 This mystery of the Ascension makes a difference to us now. Jesus told His disciples that in order for the Holy Spirit to come, He had to return to the Father. The rather limited physical presence of Jesus – which could only be shared by a few disciples – had to be withdrawn so that the universal presence of Jesus might become available forever to everyone all over the world.
    2 Secondly, the Ascension tells us finally and completely who Jesus really is. The picture of Jesus returning to God the Father enables us to let go of previous and incomplete pictures of Him. Certainly, Jesus is the baby at Bethlehem, but that’s not who He is now. He is the teacher of the Sermon on the Mount, but we know much more than just a record of His words. He died on the cross, but that’s not where He is today. Ascension adds a final and critical photograph to the album of who Christ is and what he does. He is ascended – once more with the Father, Lord of heaven and earth, ruler of life and conqueror of death, the ruler of all human history. Jesus is alive and well and is still doing lots of things everyday. It’s a lot more important that we see what Jesus is doing, than worrying about what He ‘would’ do.
    3 And third, the Ascension gives us something to do. Jesus commanded the apostles – and us – to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey His commandments. With one stroke Jesus removed any and all ethnic and racial barriers. All people of all nations are to be invited to share in the communion of the Church.
“ ... from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.”
    Judgment has always been a core belief of our faith. We believe that Christ will come to us when we die and we will be judged at that moment. The full meaning of our lives, however, will not be complete until the world ends. For example, as a parent, a teacher, a social worker, etc., we may have a significant impact on one – or many – lives. Those people, in turn, may help others, resulting in much good through the ages. At the same time, an evil life can have repercussions that last through many centuries. So, at the end of time, Jesus will bring human history to a close in a final judgment, which will not change the results of the particular judgment, but will bring the consequences of our deeds to light.
    Often, judgment strikes fear in our hearts. For the people who shaped our faith centuries ago, the Jewish people saw Law as a blessing and never thought of judgment as condemnation. Thus, the segment of our Creed about judgment is not a call to fear, but a call to growth, to faithfulness to Jesus. We have been created not only to go to heaven on Judgment Day but to bring with us what we have done to build the Reign of God. The judgment of humanity has something to do with having left the world better than when we first received it. God waits for us to finish His work.

Bible study: Different Accounts of the Ascension
The Gospel of Matthew: No account of a visible ascension
The Gospel of Mark: On Easter Sunday Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene, then to two disciples on a country road – these appearances are not described. Then Jesus appears to the eleven at table and commissions them to go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel. Then, there is a visible ascension: “So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God.” (Mk 16:19)
The Gospel of Luke: A visible ascension takes place. On Easter Sunday, the disciples were gathered together talking about appearances that had already taken place that day. In the midst of this, the Lord appeared, spoke and ate with them. The visible ascension follows: “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised His hands, and blessed them. As He blessed them He parted from them and was taken up to heaven.” (Lk 24:50-51)
The Gospel of John: No account of a visible ascension
The Acts of the Apostles: Here, Luke gives another account of the Ascension which indicates that Jesus appeared to the disciples “during 40 days.” (Acts 1:9-11)           
Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension and sending of the Spirit were really all parts of a single event, each one flowing out of the other. Our liturgical celebration of this mystery corresponds to Luke’s account in Acts. After Easter Sunday, Jesus appears at different times over forty days, then visibly ascends to heaven. Then, ten days later, there is the dramatic outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. This liturgical celebration is great for the Church. Because it is many weeks long, we have more time to take it all in. The mystery is so great that we need time to digest it all – we need the fifty days of the Easter season.
Reflection: Prayer in the Spirit of the Ascension
These prayers – in the spirit of the message of the Ascension – may be prayed at home by families or in parish gatherings, as we recall the challenge of Jesus’ call to us to preach and live the Good News. Response to intentions:
Gracious God, set us on fire with your Good News.
Let us pray for all Christians everywhere who are called to preach the Gospel. For this, let us pray to the Lord.
Let us pray for all Church leaders, who encourage and lead us in the work of evangelization, for ________. For them, let us pray to the Lord.
Let us pray for those who preach the Gospel of love by working for justice and peace. For them, let us pray to the Lord.
Let us pray that all Christians may be enflamed with courage and creativity to preach the Good News of salvation. For this, let us pray to the Lord.

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