by Father Mike Stubbs
This Sunday, we celebrate the feast of the ascension of Our Lord.
However, in listening to the Gospel reading, Mt 28:16-20, we might think a more appropriate title for the day would be “the feast of Our Lord’s enduring presence.”
After all, the Gospel reading concludes with the sentence: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” This sentence also concludes the Gospel as a whole.
This emphasis upon Jesus’ presence among us is fitting for a Gospel that accorded him the title “Emmanuel” — “God is with us” — at the very beginning of his life: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel” (Mt 1:23).
The fact that Matthew’s Gospel omits the actual event of Jesus’ ascension, and only offers an account of what happened immediately beforehand, matches its omission of the event of Jesus’ resurrection.
Mortal eyes are not worthy to view these mysteries. Perhaps, because the disciples fall prostrate at Jesus’ feet, they are physically not in a position to see what is going on.
In that respect, Matthew’s Gospel resembles the other three. No canonical Gospel relates the event of Jesus’ resurrection, while all four attest to it happening and describe its aftermath — how the women visit the empty tomb and how the risen Christ appears to the disciples.
The actual event is too sacred for mortal eyes. However, only Matthew’s Gospel omits Jesus’ ascension. Once again, this is not to deny it, but rather to stress his enduring presence among us.
At the same time, this passage of the Gospel does not elaborate on the manner in which Jesus will remain with us.
Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, however, Jesus promises: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20).
We hear something very similar in 1 Cor 5:4: “In the name of [the] Lord Jesus: when you have gathered together and I am with you in spirit with the power of the Lord Jesus.”
Our faith reminds us that Jesus Christ is present with us through the sacraments, through the words of Scripture, and through the church as a whole, which is his body on earth.
Even though he has ascended up into heaven, he still remains with us.
As he has promised: “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”