(In those dioceses where the Ascension is celebrated on Sunday, May 24, use the following readings. If your diocese celebrates the Ascension on Thursday, May 21, use the readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter. Check with your local parish.)
Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11
Jesus is taken up to heaven in the presence of the apostles.
Sing praise to God as he mounts his throne.
God raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at his right hand.
Jesus charges his disciples to make disciples of all nations and promises to be with them forever.
Background on the Gospel Reading
Today’s Gospel is taken from the conclusion of the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew’s Gospel quickly moves from the disciples’ discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb, to Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, to the commission that Jesus gives his disciples in today’s Gospel.
The Final Commission, as this Gospel is sometimes called, is given on the mountaintop. Throughout Scripture, the most important events happen on the mountaintop, and Matthew has used this motif throughout his Gospel. Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, Peter, James, and John had seen Jesus transfigured on the mountaintop (Matthew 17:1-8). Also in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus taught the crowds from the mountaintop in what we now call the Sermon on the Mount.
Here we are told that the eleven disciples go the mountaintop in Galilee, as Jesus had instructed through Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (cf. Matthew 28:9-10). They see Jesus, and both worship and doubt at the same time. Jesus approaches them and commissions them to baptize and teach, "to make disciples of all nations." It is a task which Jesus had previously prepared his disciples for; recall that Jesus had sent the twelve apostles to preach the Kingdom of God and to heal (cf. Matthew 10:1-15). However, earlier the Twelve were sent only to the House of Israel; in this Final Commission, the eleven are told to go to "all nations." The mission of Jesus is now to be taken to all people; the task now is to baptize and to teach.
Jesus commissions his disciples to baptize in the name of the Trinity, one of the clearest attestations found in Scripture for baptism in the name of the Trinity. In the Acts of the Apostles and in the Letters of Paul, baptism is more frequently offered "in the name of Jesus."
The ending of Matthew’s Gospel can be understood as the beginning of the Church. Jesus commissions his disciples to continue to teach in his name and to bring others into the community of disciples through baptism. The Gospel ends, as it had begun, with the promise that Jesus will continue to be Emmanuel, "God with us" (cf. Matthew 1:23), for all eternity.