on a mission of love

For we the living this universe, this world, this place we call home is our inheritance. As long as we may live we are thus in the world and it is up to us to deal with it as it is now, to leave it a better place for those who are yet to come.

Go and make disciples

There is a proverb which speaks of the timelessness of truth. “Time is the unfolding of truth that already is.” Truth, any and all truth, must by its nature always and everywhere be true; truth can never bear false witness, truth can never lie.

Here, in this place and at this moment, recognizing what has come before and acknowledging all who have preceded us, this is where we encounter God, the source and being of all truth. In Jesus—the transcendent God who became man—we encounter “the way, the truth, and the life” and are sent into the world to bring the “Good News” to all nations and to all peoples.

We are surrounded by mystery. Life itself is a mystery for which we will never fully understand. The Ascension is a mystery beyond simple human understanding and yet we are wont to try.

Classic images depict Jesus rising and floating above his disciples, ascending toward the heavens. Mark wrote, “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.”[1] Luke wrote that “While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.”[2] John’s Gospel makes no mention of the Ascension although John wrote in Acts that “when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”[3] In Matthew alone there is no mention of the Ascension. This is significant both in its absence and implication.

The Ascension should not be thought of as necessarily a distinct historical event. Early Easter narratives tend to depict the appearances of Jesus as manifestations of the already risen and ascended Christ, such as Paul’s Damascus experience in 1 Corinthians 15. Later appearance narratives, including those found in Luke and the Acts of the Apostles tend to separate the Resurrection and the Ascension, not as two distinct and successive events, but rather in order to reflect upon the meaning of two aspects of a single, indivisible event. For several centuries the church did not, either in its writings or in the liturgy, treat the Ascension as a unique event that actually “occurred” on the fortieth day after the Resurrection.

Today, the church calendar continues the tradition of observing the Ascension on the fortieth day as a matter of convenience, although many places transfer the observance to the following Sunday. This is in keeping with the thought of providing the opportunity to contemplate and reflect upon this singular aspect of the Easter event.

Matthew closes his Gospel not with the Ascension of the Lord but with the Commissioning of the Disciples. This, at first blush, may feel incomplete, as if the writer was interrupted and left it without a proper ending, without a “goodbye.” And yet, there is perhaps another way of looking at Matthew’s closing, one that helps us to see the commissioning as the final act in the Easter narrative rather than an unfinished and dissatisfying ending.

If we are to consider the Resurrection and Ascension as two aspects of a single event and all subsequent appearances of Jesus to be manifestations of the already risen and ascended Lord, then we can begin to see things in a new light. Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension no longer signify an ending but a new beginning. His Resurrection and Ascension no longer appear to be a departure but a new coming of his Spirit, the Holy Spirit. And thus we may better understand what he is telling us when he says, “behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

God came to us through Christ; God gave Himself to us in Christ; God is with us by the Holy Spirit. Through Him, with Him, in Him we share in his ascended humanity and in his eternal divinity. Clearly, this is a mystery beyond our comprehension or understanding. It is a mystery so profound, a reality far beyond our poor ability to depict or put into words.

We live in a time of severe crisis. Suffering, persecution, torture, pain, sorrow, hatred, terror, anger, fear; these are real and tragically ever-present in our lives. The pages of our magazines and newspapers and the shrill voices shrieking over the radio and television give awareness of the evils that surround and threaten to overwhelm us.

Christianity is on the defensive. We are in the midst of a religious crisis, fueled by the coverage of that self-same media which not only refuses to admit to the truth of the crucifixion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, but at its core resists and denies the very existence of the transcendent God whom Jesus revealed to the world; the world in which we now live.

Contemporary accounts of Jesus, as commonly taught at such academic shrines as Texas, Harvard, and Emory Universities seek to “set Jesus free” from scripture and creed. Which leaves us to ask, “then what is Jesus without scripture or creed?” To which we are assured he is like a “Jewish Socrates or Lenny Bruce. Jesus was perhaps the first stand-up comic—not political, not programmatic, offering no program for the world. It turns out that the most reliable description of Jesus is that he is ’an ironic secular sage.”

How strange? To think, for over two millennia the world thought Jesus was God, and now, thanks to contemporary academic studies, authored by esteemed and learned speculative theoreticians, we are now to believe that Jesus was just like all those professors, an “ironic secular sage.” Although one can only wonder how Jesus could be considered a contemporary of such august minds given he held no academic credentials, lacked tenure and never had so much as a single word published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The contemporary ’secular sage’ insists that it is all so ordinary, this faith, this story, this gospel, this Jesus. Yet it is precisely the extraordinary, the supernatural, that makes him what he is—not only his moral teachings (which some great sage might dream up), but also his resurrected body (which no other religion has come up with), and the seeming disgrace of his cross.

It is not new, this struggle of faith in Jesus Christ. Since the beginning, it was known that if we banish Christ’s divinity, he and all of us are utterly alone. He was just another heap of chemicals who died. It is humanity alone on that cross. And it is a stranded humanity that is left with post-Resurrection delusions.[4] 

Despite the crises we now face, it is into this world that God sent his only Son, not to condemn but to redeem and save us, to save us all. In all the appearances of the risen and ascended Christ, his message was always, “Do not be afraid for I am with you always, until the end of the age.” It is the ascended Christ who says, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

The final appearance of Jesus takes place on a mountain. Mountains were often the location of very significant events between God and his creation and thus has great theological significance. Biblical scholars locate the Garden of Eden on a mountain. Abraham took his only son Isaac to a mountain to be sacrificed. Moses received the Ten Commandments and spoke with God on the mountain at Sinai. Jesus gave us the Beatitudes, the great sermon on a mountain. The transfiguration took place on a mountain.

So, it is fitting and proper that his final appearance should be on a mountain. His disciples would be attuned to the significance of the place but doubtful of his final message to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” After all, they were doing all that they could to stay out of sight for fear of the Jews.

But after Pentecost, after receiving his spirit, they no longer doubted, they no longer were afraid, they did as Jesus asked when he said: “I send you out on a mission of love. Go and spread the Good News.” His mission still exists today. He is still sending us out. So, go and spread the Good News.

Amen.

 

Homily #124
The Ascension of the Lord (A)
Acts 1:1-11
Ephesians 1:17-23
Matthew 28:16-20


[1] Mark 16:19.
[2] Luke 24:51.
[3] Acts 1:9.
[4] John Kavanaugh, SJ, The Beyond, The Sunday Website of St. Louis University.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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