Spring 2011

The First Fruits of the Flesh and the First Fruits of the Spirit: the Mystery of the Ascension

José Granados

The very font of Christian life emerges here, in this distinct mode of Jesus’ presence, which is inaugurated on the Mount of Olives. At the Ascension, the believer is given the cardinal directions for his life with Christ; the structure of the sacramental economy and of the meaning and mission of the Church; and the new character of the Christian era, in which the final age has begun. How are we to understand this simultaneity of presence and absence to which the Ascension bears testimony? In order to explore the response to this question, let us begin with a study of Luke’s narrative.

1. The account of the Ascension

Saint Luke is not the only author who tells us of Christ’s ascent into Heaven. The fact is attested to in one form or another throughout the entirety of the New Testament. [4] It is part of the first kerygmatic narratives that set out the life of Jesus and it enters later into the Creed. Nevertheless, it is the third evangelist who narrates the event in the most detail and gives it a decisive importance in his work’s composition. [5] The scene unfolds in view of Jerusalem, which was Jesus’ destination and the point of origin for the Church’s mission. For this reason, Luke could both close his gospel with this event, and then recount it again as a kind of overture for Acts. The Ascension is a mystery that, like the god Janus, looks both backward and forward. 

First, the mystery extends into the past, bringing Christ’s journey to its conclusion. Luke presents the scene as the end of a long inclusion, which begins with the infancy narratives. [6] Here again, Luke speaks of that “great joy” that first characterizes the Annunciation (cf. Lk 2:10 and 24:52). Everything is situated close to the Temple, where the disciples return to pray, and where the story of Zechariah took place, with which Luke begins his gospel. We are told, moreover, of the final blessing given by Jesus, which the Baptist’s father had been unable to bestow upon the people because of his lack of faith.

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