Today we celebrate the second of the three solemnities of the Easter season, the Ascension of the Lord. The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles tell us that the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples over a period of about forty days before ascending into heaven in their sight. The ascension of Jesus, however, did not mark his departure from this world, but his presence in a new way. As Saint Paul states in today’s Second Reading: “[God the Father] put all things beneath [Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” Far from abandoning us, Christ’s ascension into glory has made it possible for him to dwell in us, who are his body, the living stones who are the Church. Christ’s presence is not confined to the dimensions of an individual human body, but “fills all things in every way.” Saint Leo the Great, in a sermon on the Ascension, said:
And so our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments…The truth is that the Son of Man was revealed as Son of God in a more perfect and transcendent way once he had entered into his Father’s glory; he now began to be indescribably more present in his divinity to those from whom he was further removed in his humanity.
The Easter mystery is the most fundamental mystery of the Christian faith. Its proclamation is at the heart of the Church’s mission. This is why the First Reading at all the Masses of the Easter season is taken from the Acts of the Apostles. We not only hear the first proclamation of Easter faith, but trace the growth of the Church as its foundation is being laid by the first believers.
In today’s First Reading we hear that the gospel is beginning to be proclaimed and to be accepted outside of Jerusalem. The Church is becoming missionary. The fact that the gospel is being preached and accepted in Samaria means that the Church is beginning to grow outside Judaism. Recall the comment in the gospel story of the Samaritan woman at the well which we heard on the Third Sunday of Lent: “Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.” (John 4:9) We also hear of the conferral of the Holy Spirit upon people who have already been baptized, which the Church maintains today as the reason for the distinction between the sacraments of baptism and confirmation.
I am the vine, you are the branches . Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
The gospel reading for Wednesday of this week is depicted in the theology window in the title pane. The narrative is John 15:1-17. The symbolism is that Christ is the vine and we are the branches, who bring his gospel message to life in our everyday lives. This symbolism is also carried out in the stonework of the great window that forms the south wall of the Cathedral. The vine and branches can be seen not only in the interior of the church, but also from the exterior. As one views the vine it blossoms into a lily.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. (John 15:7-8)