Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel. (Mark 16:15)
Today’s readings describe the ascension of the Lord Jesus into his heavenly glory after he had promised his disciples his Holy Spirit as their source of heavenly power, and commanded them to bear witness to him throughout the world by their lives and preaching. But the ascended Jesus is still with us through his indwelling of the Holy Spirit as he has promised, "I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.” Today’s feast celebrates Jesus’ final glorification after his suffering, death and resurrection – a glory in which we hope to share.
There is the funny story of a young army recruit standing at attention on the drill field. The drill instructor yells, "Forward, march!" And the entire ranks begin to move, all except this one raw recruit. He's still standing there at attention. So the drill instructor strolls over to him and yells in his right ear, "Is this thing working?" "Sir, yes, sir!" The recruit yells. Then the drill instructor walks around to the other ear and yells, "Is this thing working?" "Sir, yes, sir!" The soldier says. "Then why didn't you march when I gave the order?" "Sir, I didn't hear you call my name." Some of us are like that soldier, standing around waiting for God to call our names. But the great commission given by Jesus on the day of his Ascension is a blanket order. It has everyone's name on it. And you can be sure that the man in charge says, "Go! Make disciples! Teach!” It is your mission and my mission.
The first reading, gives an account of the event of Jesus’ ascension as recorded in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1: 1-11). Jesus instructed his apostles to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the baptism by the Holy Spirit so that they might become his “witnesses to the ends of the earth” by the power of the Holy Spirit. Then a cloud took Jesus from the sight of the disciples, and two heavenly messengers in white garments gave them the assurance of Jesus’ return in glory.
Today's psalm, “God is king of all the earth,” celebrates God's universal kingship. It was originally sung in connection with a cultic procession honouring the Ark of the Covenant. By his Ascension, the risen Lord likewise "mounts his throne" in glory.
In the second reading Paul explains the theological meaning of Jesus’ exaltation by saying, "May God enlighten the eyes of our hearts, so that we may know the great hope to which we have been called." Our great hope is that one day we, too, will be ascending to heavenly glory, provided we carry out the mission entrusted to us by the ascending Lord. Our mission is to preach the Good News of salvation to the whole world in word and deed. We continue to receive the divine assistance and spiritual gifts necessary for our Christian witnessing through the Spirit of the risen and ascended Jesus living within us.
In today's gospel Jesus gives his final message, his final instructions, his final promise, and his final blessing to his apostles. Our mission, as recorded in Mark, Acts and Mathew, is to
1) “proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark.16:15).
2) “Preach the good news and be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).
3) “Make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
Completing Jesus’ mission should be our goal in life, and the prospect of sharing the ascended Jesus’ heavenly glory should be the driving force of our lives.
Each Sunday we profess through the Creed, "He ascended into heaven." Christ’s Ascension, his return to his Father with his “Mission Accomplished,” was a culmination of God’s divine plan for Christ. Jesus’ Ascension was the grand finale of all his words and works, done for us and for our salvation. It was a culmination, but not the conclusion. As he is now with God in glory, he is now with us in Spirit: "Lo, I am with you always." The feast of the Ascension celebrates one aspect of the resurrection, namely Jesus’ exaltation. He did not wait 40 days to be glorified at God’s right hand. That happened at his resurrection. The focus of this feast is the heavenly reign of Christ. The Lord would be “seated at God’s right hand,” meaning He alone would be in control of the continuing plan of salvation through the Spirit, unrestricted by time, space or culture. Thus, the Paschal Mystery of Jesus' passion, death, resurrection, ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit form one unbroken reality which is to be understood by faith. This continuing plan of salvation will come to its fulfillment with Christ’s return in glory to pass the Final Judgment on all humanity.
In one of the great cathedrals of Europe there is a baptistery that tells the story. The water flows through it reminding us that Jesus says he is the living water. To be baptized, a person walks down three steps, each one marked by a word: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Descending the steps the convert is plunged beneath the water to die to sin and then raised from the depths to newness of life in Christ. To leave the baptistery now he must climb three steps, each one marked by a word: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So it is that a new creature is born, a new breed of man, a citizen of a new kingdom, a breed apart. Dead to sin, he is alive to God and is sent forth to grow to love and to give light to a lost, dying world. He doesn't do it alone. He does it in the Church, in little communities. In these, people demonstrate, in their way of being together, God's eternal kingdom come upon them. It took Michelangelo over ten years to paint the Sistine Chapel. Our missionary commission lasts until the job gets done, until life is over, "until the close of the age."
To be a Christian is to be a proclaimer and an evangelizer. There is a difference between preaching and proclaiming. We preach with words but we proclaim with our lives. Therefore let us ask the guidance of the Spirit of God, to bear witness to Jesus by our transparent Christian lives. Amen
“Lord, Jesus I thank and praise you for calling me to assist in your divine plan of salvation. Use me Lord, to the fullest extent possible!”