Ascension of Our Lord [A] -14
Acts 1:1-11; Eph.1:17-23; Matt.28:16-20
There is the funny story of the raw 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.
Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into Heaven. That is, he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. Each Sunday we profess through the Creed, “He ascended into heaven.” Christ’s Ascension was the culmination of God’s divine plan for Christ Jesus, by his return to his Father with “Mission Accomplished.”
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, the Father and the Holy Spirit, One God, dwells within us: “Lo, I am with you always.”
There was a long-winded pastor who preached salvation history from Genesis to Revelation in every sermon. On the feast of Ascension as he reached Isaiah, he remarked that the prophet said nothing about the ascension of Our Lord. He asked his audience, “What shall we do with him?” One old man in the front seat said, “He can have my seat, Father, I am leaving.”
The Biblical accounts of the Ascension focus not so much on the details of the event as on the mission Jesus gave to his disciples. For example, in the accounts narrated in Luke and Acts, the Ascension took place in Jerusalem. In Matthew and Mark, on the other hand, the event occurred in Galilee. All accounts, however, agree that the Ascension took place on a mountain.
In Luke and Acts, the Ascension happened forty days after the Resurrection, a period during which Jesus appeared repeatedly to his followers. In Matthew and Mark there is no indication of the time period between the Resurrection and the Ascension. The Gospel writers apparently were not aiming at accuracy of historical detail but were more concerned with transmitting Our Lord’s message.
When we think of the Ascension of Jesus, the account given us in chapter 1 of the Acts of the Apostles naturally comes to our minds. In fact, some may find that this passage from St. Matthew’s gospel is not an ascension story at all. This moment in the life of Jesus was significant from several points of view, however, and each account stresses some aspects over others.
We can identify three main aspects:
– At the end of his earthly life, and especially of his passion, Jesus makes his triumphant entry into heaven, to sit forever at the right hand of the Father.
– The time for forming his little community has come to an end, and Jesus sends his disciples out into the world.
– From now on Jesus and his followers must relate with each other differently.
All these aspects are present in the text. But do not look for them; just enter deeply into the story and you will discover for yourself how it presents the mystery of the Ascension.
In verses 16 the disciples make their way back to Galilee, the place where the whole adventure began. Let the verse 17 speak to you deeply; the scene is very touching. Ask yourself why some hesitated. The commission of Jesus in verses 18 and 19 is in three waves:
– a statement of his own authority; “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” – a three-fold command; “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.” – and a promise; “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
The ascension of Jesus has something to do with us, with a solemn commission to evangelize the entire world in the name of the Holy Trinity. A Chinese proverb says that a picture is worth a thousand words. Before Jesus left, He commissions His disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. For me the word that is worth a thousand pictures is the word “go.”
It is because it brings to our minds pictures of missionaries riding in boats, donkeys, horses, ferries, carts, old vehicles, walking on foot in order to bring Jesus to hidden corners of this planet earth. This is our mandate from Jesus Himself. We have a mission to spread our faith.
There was an old saying: “Words push, examples pull.” Someone adds: Any good Christian is a walking Bible even though he has never quoted a verse. In fact good Christian example may be the only gospel illiterate people can read.” In other words, even if we speak convincingly, even if we speak too much but our actions contradict to what we are saying, nothing happen.
This mission also includes: to witness to Christ in the world, to preach the Good news that God redeemed us and to show by our love that He is always with us. To witness to Christ in the world, Jesus said: “…your light must shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father,” (Matt 5:16) but how? Through our prayer and worship, loving concern and care for others or a good life.
This mission is not given to a select few but to all believers. 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.”
As we celebrate the Lord’s return to His Father in heaven – His Ascension – we are being commissioned to go forth and proclaim the Gospel of life and love, of hope and peace, by the witness of our lives. On this day of hope, encouragement and commissioning, let us renew our commitment to be true disciples everywhere we go, beginning with our family and our parish, “living in a manner worthy of the call [we] have received.” Amen.