May 16, 2010
The teacher was discussing the story of creation to her second grade school children. She was telling them about how God the Father created the whole world. After listening, a little boy was excited and with full conviction blurted out his own version: “And God the Father made all these things with only his left hand!” This caught everybody by surprise. The teacher asked him, “And why is that?” “Well,” the boy explained, “because Jesus went up to heaven and sits on the right hand of the Father! So he had to use only his left hand.”
After three years of his public ministry that was capped with his perfect self-sacrifice on the cross, Jesus now goes back to heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. He has done what he was sent to do. He has accomplished his mission. Now it is time to go back home and sit where he rightfully belongs. “As they (the disciples) were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight” (Acts 1:9). It is similar to a graduation ceremony – in an infinitely glorious fashion.
A graduation ceremony is always an occasion of great joy. It marks the successful completion of a student’s arduous struggles and sacrifices in his studies. The Ascension of the Lord is just that: he has successfully accomplished his mission. His Passion and Death are over, and after his Resurrection, it is time to receive the diploma of completion. The joy is not only on the part of the Son, but more so on the part of the Father who sent him.
But a graduation ceremony is also punctuated by tears. It marks the end of something beautiful. The graduates will have to leave the gates of their Alma Mater where for many years they enjoyed the company of their beloved classmates and friends. Separations always bring sorrow and pain. This is the experience of the disciples at that moment when the Lord was taken up to heaven. Their eyes just cannot let him go. That is why angels are sent from heaven to bring them back to reality: “While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven’” (Acts 1:11).
This brings us to the third point. Behind the tears of joys and parting, there is an overflow of hope in the hearts of graduates during the ceremony. Each one looks forward to a great future, and they know that separation is only temporary. They will always have ways to keep in touch, and during the Alumni Homecoming, they will see each other time and again. Similarly, we are filled with hope because Jesus will surely come again; we will surely see him again. The angels assured the disciples: “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” The author of the Letter to the Hebrews was clear on this: “Christ will appear a second time, not to take away sin, but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him” (Heb 9:28). But most especially, our hope lies in the assurance of our own victory and glorious heavenly reward. Jesus is the head of the Church; we are the members of his Body. The head enters heaven; the body and all its members will surely follow.
Finally, in the graduation ceremony, the graduate with top honors delivers his address. He is called the Valedictorian because he is tasked to give the farewell speech called the Valedictory Address. In essence, these are words of gratitude to the parents and mentors, and words of advice to fellow graduates. This is what Jesus gave to his disciples before he ascended to heaven. He said: “All power in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:19-20). It is a call to action, a message of commissioning – they are being sent on a mission. In accomplishing this, they need not be worried because he assured them of his abiding presence.
A graduation ceremony has been traditionally called Commencement Exercises – a reminder to the graduates that, from here on, real life begins. The Ascension of the Lord can be aptly called such. It marks, not the end, but the beginning of a new era in the Church, characterized by the more dynamic and widespread apostolic activity of the followers of Jesus. He confided earlier that it was necessary for him to go so that the Father can send the Holy Spirit who will teach them everything and remind them of all that he taught them (Jn 14:26). Through the Holy Spirit, he continues to be with them, working with them. His Ascension, then, was not the end, but the beginning; it was not a departure, but the advent of his new presence – a more effective and universal presence in the world.
This celebration of the Lord’s Ascension should fill us with joy and hope – there is victory and the full assurance of our future glory as children of God. But it also reminds us in a very special way of our most important duty as followers of Jesus – to be his living witnesses: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). It is only by witnessing with our lives permeated by the teachings and example of Jesus that we will be able to fulfill our mission of making disciples of all nations. Let this celebration, therefore, be our Commencement Exercises – let us now begin working on our task as messengers of hope and joy in this world.
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Diocese of Novaliches
Quezon City, Philippines