The Ascension of the Lord
At the beginning of Acts, St. Luke describes Christ’s 40 days on earth after His resurrection:
In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the holy Spirit.” -Acts 1:1-5, NAB
Acts begins by addressing Theophilus, the same person addressed in Luke 1:3. Who was Theophilus? No one knows for sure, but the translation in Greek means friend of God or loved by God, so it could very well be that St. Luke was writing this letter to all of the friends of God for generations to come – including you and me – and not to a specific person (but no one knows for sure).
St. Luke continues by describing Jesus’ actions after His resurrection. He continued to teach the apostles, showed proof that He had truly risen, and told them to wait for the Holy Spirit. And after 40 days, He ascended into heaven.
The focus then turns to Pentecost, when they are first baptized with the Holy Spirit. This is repeated again in Acts 1:6-11, as Christ’s final words to the apostles are telling them to wait for this to happen. The time has come for Jesus to ascend to heaven, and He wants them to be ready for the coming of the Holy Spirit and the mission that lies ahead.
Throughout the Bible, we see how the repetitious use of numbers helps us to connect one event to another. Jesus had spent 40 days in the desert facing pain, hunger, and a variety of temptations. After His death, He rose from the grave and spent 40 days walking among the people – proving that He had conquered temptation, sin, and death.
This is the culmination of Jesus’ entire ministry. He had taught the people how to live, proven that He could cure the sick, and brought forgiveness to the sinners. He showed that He could help us to overcome sin and temptation by overcoming it Himself in the desert. And finally, after resurrecting from the dead and ascending to heaven by his own power, Christ shows us that He can conquer death and offer us a new life. When the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts, this is the message that He wants us to share.
The Easter celebration is not over. On Easter Sunday, we celebrate Christ conquering death. On the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, we celebrate Jesus rising to heaven. The gift of conquering death is only half of God’s promise to us; the gift of heaven is the other half. Through our faith in Christ, He will lead us from death to life in heaven. That’s what our faith is all about.