The Catholic Church celebrates the Ascension of Jesus into heaven 40 days after Easter Sunday. But why do we celebrate the Ascension? What makes it so special?
What is the Ascension?
Before His Ascension into heaven, Jesus spent 40 days appearing to hundreds of people. On the 40th day, Jesus led his disciples outside of Jerusalem:
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. – Acts 1:6-9
So why do we celebrate the Ascension? It affects both our spiritual lives today and our future in heaven. Here are reasons to celebrate:
1. The Ascension gives us expectant hope for heaven.
Jesus did not ascend into heaven, body and soul, to be alone. He desires for us to join Him there forever. Mary’s own Assumption into heaven also points to this hopeful reality.
Jesus forshadowed this to His disciples:
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. – John 14:2-3
2. The Ascension allows us live in heaven spiritually, right now.
When we were baptized, we became united to the Body of Christ in a real way:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. – 1 Corinthians 12:12-14
Although our bodies are not yet physically in heaven, we are spiritually connected to Christ who is in heaven.
“Christ’s Ascension is our own ascension; our body has the hope of one day being where its glorious Head has preceded it.” – St. Leo the Great
If we unite ourselves more closely to Christ in this life, we can help bring about His redemption of the world before we die. In a way, we can truly bring heaven to earth.
As it says in the Our Father, we can do his will “on earth as it is in heaven.”
3. During the Ascension, Jesus sends us on a mission to evangelize the entire world.
The Ascension also includes the “final words” of Jesus, also known as the Great Commission:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on 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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20
Out of all His teachings, Jesus chose to conclude with His command for us to evangelize. He wants us to bring more people into His Body, His Church, through baptism.
Along with so important a mission, He reminds us that He will be present with us always.
4. We must joyfully prepare ourselves to receive the Holy Spirit.
Jesus leaving earth might be devastating if He weren’t also sending the Holy Spirit to be with us. The Holy Spirit is vital:
Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. – John 16:7
Jesus doesn’t send us on mission alone. He gives us Himself in the Eucharist and the Holy Spirit to be our guide.
5. Jesus takes His glorious throne at the right hand of the Father.
While on earth, Jesus held back His true glory for our sake:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8
With the Ascension, Jesus ascends to His glory as the King of Heaven and Earth. We even celebrate this mystery as the second Glorious Mystery in the rosary.
In heaven, Jesus continually intercedes for us from His throne.