In Fra Angelico’s depiction of Christ’s ascension, Mary occupies center stage. A monk at the monastery of San Marco in Florence in the 15th century, Fra Angelico painted the work to decorate the doors of a silver treasury for an oratory to be constructed near the chapel of the Santissima Annunziata in the church of the same name. The 11 apostles, two angels, and Mary are united in a circle in the lower half of the painting. Peter, with his keys, is identifiable at Mary’s right. The top and bottom borders of the composition contain Latin inscriptions on scrolls, citing Psalm 17:11, “And he ascended upon the cloud, and he flew upon the wings of the winds,” and Mark 16:19, “The Lord Jesus, after he had spoken, was taken up into heaven. The ending of Mark.” The painting is now in the Museum of San Marco in Florence.
Although in the final chapter of Luke the ascension occurs on Easter Day, in the Acts of the Apostles the imagery of 40 days intensifies the story line. It is also mythically alive, a time pregnant with a religious future.
The Gospel of Luke ends with the Ascension. Before Jesus ascends, he reveals himself before the disciples and “opened their minds to understand the scriptures” so that they may be “witnesses of these things.”
As believers and followers of Jesus Christ, this is our task. We are called to witness. But we are called to witness in a way that goes beyond merely testifying to the events that have happened.