Because of this, the seventh Sunday after Easter is also known as the Sunday After the Ascension, or Ascension Sunday. Although the lectionary readings for this Sunday do not directly address Jesus’ ascending to the Father, they do carry forward some of its themes.
The reading from Acts 16 continues the missionary expedition to Philippi of Macedonia that we began last week. Paul and Silas, after freeing a slave-girl of a spirit of divination, are thrown into prison at the instigation of her disgruntled owners, who turn the crowd against the two by accusing them of disturbing the city. Deep in the night, as Paul and Silas pray and sing hymns, an earthquake comes and opens the prison doors, shakes the foundation, and unfastens the prisoners’ chains. The jailer despairs for his job and his life, but then he sees that Paul and Silas have remained inside! They are there as witnesses of the power of God. The jailer and his family (again, a whole household) become believers and are baptized. Here is what happens when Jesus’ promise and his charge made before the Ascension are realized: the Holy Spirit acts to empower and direct, and his disciples carry out his mission of taking the Good News to the whole world.
The book of Revelation concludes with the second reading for this week. In it, Jesus speaks, identifying himself as the source of John’s vision and promising that he is “coming soon.” The Spirit and the Church eagerly receive this news, saying “Come.” The writer concludes by echoing them: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” This is an affirmation of Jesus’ promise before his Ascension that after that event he would come again to gather to himself the whole world.
Jesus’ prayer in John’s gospel actually occurs prior to his arrest and his Passion, but it echoes his words in Acts 1, where he delivers his charge to his disciples, describing their mission to the world and promising that they would see his glory. He promises that his love will be in them and that they will be sent out to make that love known.
Next Sunday, on the Day of Pentecost, Easter season will come to an end, and we will all experience the coming of the Holy Spirit to carry us through the days ahead until Christ’s coming again. This Ascension Sunday is the prelude to that event.