Ascension of the Lord (Fr. Simham)
Today we celebrate the solemnity of the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. It may not be as glamorous a celebration as Christmas or Easter. It may not look, at the peripheral level as spectacular an event in the life of Jesus as Christmas where there were angels singing, shepherds running or even Easter, rocks rolling, Magdalene rushing. Still, I believe, Ascension was an important event in the life of Jesus as any other events in his life. In fact it was one of the glorious event in his life. To explain this, I just want to pick up one verse for St. Paul’s letter to Ephesians. (It is part of our ‘office of the readings’ today. And it is also the ‘short-responsorial’ for morning prayer.) Because it is St. Paul who gives an insight into the glorious dimensions of this seemingly quiet and subdued event; I.e. Ascension. I just want to divide the sentence into two halves to know the full meaning.
In the first half he quotes (Ephesians 4:8):- “When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive…..” What does it mean? It is an ancient military language. In ancient times when a great warrior returned home after successfully waging war against the enemy, he had a victory parade at home, in his home country. People used to come out in numbers to great the victorious king. In that victory parade the victorious leader will parade in chains all the enemies that were captured in the battle. This event is called as ‘leading the captivity captive.’ It means those who were planning captivity for them are now taken captive. It was a one of the most shameful days for those who are captured. But for the one who conquered them, that is the victorious king it was one of the most glorious moments. And St. Paul wants us to understand Jesus’ ascension in these terms. When Jesus entered into his Father’s Homeland, after successfully conquering sin and death there was a victory parade for Jesus … a spiritual victory parade ….. The enemies that were conquered; sin, death and evil were paraded in chains. Today is the day Jesus lead the captivity captive. Let us rejoice and be glad, because on this day our enemy, the devil was put to shame.
Secondly St. Paul says in the same verse, “ As he lead the captivity captive, he gave gifts to men. That is another common occurrence in the ancient ‘victory parade.’ As the group of people came on to the street to greet and hail the victorious leader, the victorious leader who obviously was coming back with lots booty, throws gifts from the booty to the people. If is for them to celebrate his victory. This is another imagery Paul uses to explain the importance of ascension. As Jesus ascended into heaven, he gave gifts to men; men who came to believe and celebrate his victory. What were the gifts?
Read verse 11 in the same chapter.
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ……
It is interesting to note that these; either being an apostle or prophet or evangelist were gifts not useful for themselves. But these were the gifts to be used for others. He gave his men gifts to be apostles, evangelists or teachers so that they in turn can be gifts to others. He gave them gifts so that they in turn can be a gift to their family, to their community and to the church. That is what he does even today. He gives us gifts so that we in turn can be gifts for others.
Now, the critical question is how can we gifts to others? Be a good priest, you are a gift to your parish. Be a good husband, be a good wife, be a good son or daughter or be a good grandmother, then you are a gift your family. If you are a nurse, be good nurse, if you are a teacher, be good teacher; if you are a cook be a good cook, if you are a mechanic, be a good mechanic. Then you are a gift to other.
That is the challenge for us today and every day, to be gift for other. May the Risen Christ who is seated at the right hand of the Father, bless you all. Amen.
Fr. Showreelu Simham