As they were saying this, Jesus Himself stood among them. But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave Him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. Then He said to them, “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high.” Then He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up His hands He blessed them. While He blessed them, He parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.
Luke 24: 36-53
The Gospel that is read on the Feast of the Ascension connects one of the post-Resurrection appearances of the Lord with the Disciples along with the event of the Ascension. In this encounter, while the Disciples are talking over what they have heard from Luke and Cleopas, (the two disciples who had been walking in the country, whom Jesus appeared to and vanished, the verses that immediately precede these) Jesus Himself comes and stands in the midst of all of them. They are understandably frightened. Jesus encourages them to look at His hands and feet, to handle Him, to touch His flesh so that they can know that He is not a spirit. And still with all of this, they still “disbelieve for joy.”
This is probably a good characterization for many Christians. They have joy. However, they don’t necessarily believe without reservation. They may not totally believe, but what they do believe brings them joy. Again, it is very pleasant and refreshing to see that the Disciples, who witnessed all of Jesus’ promises come true, and who saw Him in the flesh after the Resurrection, still had reservations and doubts. That should make us feel better about our own reservations and doubts.
Jesus ate before them, then opened their minds to understand the scriptures. He commissioned them to spread the Gospel to all nations. He also told them to stay in Jerusalem until they “received power from on high” (Luke 24: 49), the promise of the Holy Spirit.
The Gospel of Luke mentions the Ascension, which was also mentioned in the Gospel of Mark. The Book of Acts gives the best description of the Ascension. Since Luke is held to be the author of Acts, it would make sense that Luke has the best explanation of the Ascension from the four Gospels.
The Bible tells us that the Disciples “returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”” (24: 52-53) We know from the Book of Acts that Pentecost occurred ten days after the Ascension. What is not clear is whether the “continually in the temple blessing God,” was only for that short ten day period or for a longer period of time. What we do know is that Jesus told the Disciples to wait in Jerusalem, to be “clothed with power from on high.” He didn’t tell them how long it would take for this to happen, or in what way it would happen, only to wait for it to happen. We can surmise that all doubts weren’t erased from their minds. If they still had doubts and they were actually speaking face to face with Christ, certainly there must have been doubt as they waited in Jerusalem to be clothed with power from on high.
And so again, here is where we can take comfort. The Disciples were continually in the temple blessing God, and doing so with joy, even though they didn’t have full comprehension of what they believed or what they were doing. They stayed with the program, so to speak, they stayed in the temple, they stayed with blessing God, even while waiting for Him to clothe them with power from on high. They stayed with Christ even though they didn’t have full knowledge of where it was leading. This is the inspiration and example for us to do the same. For the story of the believers is not limited to select Disciples who lived two thousand years ago. This story of faith belongs to the believers of today—to you and to me.
In some sense, we have both received and wait for more. Unlike the Disciples on the day of the Ascension, as they waited for the Holy Spirit, we have already received the Holy Spirit, Who we receive continually through prayer and the sacraments. However, like the Disciples, we are still waiting, in our case, waiting for the return of Christ, waiting to inherit His Kingdom. Like them, we must continually be in the temple, blessing God, and continually outside of the temple, serving one another.
You were born, as You Yourself so willed; You appeared, as You Yourself so wished. You suffered in the flesh, O our God; you rose from the dead, having trampled death. You were taken up in glory, You who fill the universe; and You sent us the divine Spirit, that we might extol and glorify Your Divinity. (Doxastikon of Ascension, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Take a measure of joy no matter how strong your belief is today. Because if you read this message, you have at least some belief, which should bring at least some sense of joy.