Jesus continues to be present in his Church after his Ascension

Homily for the Ascension of the Lord Year B

by Fr. Tommy Lane

All partings are difficult. It is never easy to say, “Goodbye.” The time also came for Jesus risen from the dead to return to heaven from earth. As we heard in the Gospel (Mark 16:15-20) Jesus took his seat at the right hand of the Father. Jesus completed his mission on earth and returned to his Father again. But this was not in fact the end of Jesus’ mission because before he ascended he entrusted his mission to the Church. At the end of Mark’s Gospel which we have just heard, Jesus commanded the Apostles,

“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)

So the Church, through its bishops who are the successors of the Apostles, and its priests who are the bishops' assistants, continues what Jesus began. Jesus is present in the Church and continues his ministry in and through the Church. The Gospel reminded us of Jesus’ continual presence in the Church after his ascension,

“they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.” (Mark 16:20)

Jesus' presence in the Church and working through the Church is also very clear in the Acts of the Apostles. Many times in Acts we see Jesus guiding the Church and leading the Church. Although Jesus is no longer physically present after his ascension, many times in the account of the early Church in Acts we see that Jesus is present with the Church.

So after Jesus’ ascension if you are looking for Jesus the place to look for him is in his Church. During his life on earth Jesus was present in one way, and after his ascension Jesus is present with us in another way, in the Church. Since Jesus founded the Church where else but in the Church would we expect to find Jesus? Jesus founded the Church and the Church is the bride of Christ so naturally Jesus is with his Church despite all its imperfections and weaknesses. The Church is imperfect because none of us is yet a perfect copy of Jesus.

Although we are aware of the imperfections of the Church we are also very aware of the presence of Jesus in the Church. Again as we heard in our Gospel,

“they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.” (Mark 16:20)

The second reading from the letter to the Ephesians spoke of Jesus giving gifts to men after his ascension,

“grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph 4:7)

So Jesus gives grace to his Church. Jesus decides which grace is most appropriate for each person. What is this grace? It is a grace or gift or charism for the building up and strengthening of the Church. The letter then described some of the gifts or graces or charisms that Jesus pours out on individuals in the Church,

“he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers…” (Eph 4:11)

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians adds more graces or charisms that Jesus pours out on individuals in the Church, the gift of tongues, the gift of interpretation of tongues, the gift of very strong faith, the gift of healing, the gift of miracles, the gift of wisdom, the gift of knowledge, the gift of discernment (1 Cor 12:8-10,28-30) These gifts have come to life again in a wonderful way in the Charismatic Renewal Movement during the last half of the last century. It is normal to see these gifts being exercised at a Charismatic Prayer Meeting. All of these gifts or charisms that Jesus pours out on the Church are not for the benefit of the individual who receives them but are for the benefit of the entire Church. As we heard in the second reading,

“he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12)

The reading from Ephesians today is not the only place where we read that Jesus pours out grace on the Church. In Acts 2:33 when Peter was explaining Pentecost to those who were nearby and thought the apostles were drunk, he said

“Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you (both) see and hear.” Acts 2:33

Jesus is with us in a new way after his ascension; now he is with us in the Church and he equips his Church to continue his work by giving different gifts to different members of the Church. What is the gift Jesus gave to you to use for the Church? He surely has given you a gift to be used for the benefit of all of us here. Ideally as soon as everyone receives the Sacrament of Confirmation they should take on some role helping in the Church, using their gift for the service of the Church. We should strive to let the whole world see that the Church, that our parish, is the place where Jesus continues to be present after his ascension. As we heard in the second reading,

“I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace….” (Eph 4:1-3)

When we truly live the message of Jesus we help the faith of others. When we do not truly live the message of Jesus, we scandalize others and the whole Church suffers. When someone rejects the message of Jesus they lose out on a beautiful relationship with Jesus,

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)

Those who no longer come to Mass on Sunday do not have the Eucharist at home, do they? When someone stops celebrating the Eucharist with the community on Sunday surely they can only expect their relationship with the Lord Jesus to go downhill after that. That is why we really have to work that the Church becomes what the Lord calls it to be, that all will find their home in the Church and thus find Jesus.

Jesus continues to be present after his ascension but in a new way. Now he is present in the Church. To help the Church continue his mission he pours out his gifts on individuals in the Church. Let us pray that the Church will more and more become what Jesus calls it to be that all may come to find Jesus.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2006

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for the Ascension of our Lord Year B

Related Homilies: on above theme The Church - Flesh and Blood or Revelation of the Father

on the Ascension: Enlightened to our Calling and Destiny (Years A & C)

After Jesus’ Ascension don’t just sit there - Witness! 2008

Waiting in Prayer for the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit

Jesus' Ascension for our Salvation - Praying together before Pentecost 2011

First reading, witnesses to the ends of the earth: Church growing through trials