Men of Galilee, why gaze in wonder at the heavens? This Jesus whom you saw ascending into heaven will return as you saw him go, alleluia. (Acts 1:11 – sung with verses from psalm 46)
Angels are speaking here – and when angels speak, something astounding is going on. An angel announced to Mary that she had been chosen to be the mother of the Son of God, to shepherds at Bethlehem that the promised Messiah had been born, to the women at the tomb that Jesus had risen from the dead – all huge and very out-of-the-ordinary events. And here, to the disciples who had just witnessed the Lord’s ascension, angels announce that he who has ascended will return as you saw him go.
The Ascension is not the end; it is a beginning. It is the beginning of the in-between time in which we live, between Jesus’ life on earth and his return at the end of time as the king of glory. We are in the time of waiting for that return. But we cannot hang around gazing into the clouds while we wait – the Lord will come back at the time that only God knows, and we in the meantime have to get on with living the Gospel and spreading the Gospel as he taught us.
The Church sings these words at the beginning of Mass on this day when we focus on the Ascension aspect of the Easter mystery. They remind us that Easter-Ascension-Pentecost is not the whole story. There is also the Return, the final, yet-to-be-written chapter of the life of the church, the life of the world. We celebrate the Eucharist until Christ returns in glory. It is not only a remembrance of past events, but also a pledge of future ones.
Today is a day of rejoicing: the psalm bids all peoples, clap your hands, cry to God with shouts of joy… God goes up with shouts of joy… sing praise with all your skill. It is a day of celebration and pondering on the mystery of Christ’s Ascension. But it is also a day when we are called to take our heads out of the clouds: why are you standing there dumbfounded, gazing up? Until the Lord returns, there’s a huge task to be done. It’s time to get on with it.
As we celebrate the Eucharist, we are fed with the nourishment we need to undertake that task. And at the end of Mass, we are bid to go forth, proclaiming the gospel by our lives, living in the joy of the resurrection and ascension and in the hope of the Lord’s return in glory.
Here is the Latin chant version of this antiphon:
You can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEbaDPmxAUE
(the Graduale Project)