The Ascension of the Lord

Today’s readings 

Have you ever been at a loss for words? Have you been in a situation that was so astounding that you were just … speechless? Hopefully it was for something astoundingly wonderful, as for the apostles as their Lord ascended to heaven. Can you imagine what was going through the disciples’ minds as they stood there watching the Ascension of the Lord? Think about all that they’ve been through. Three years following this Jesus whose words were compelling and whose miracles were amazing and whose way of life was uplifting. But still, there was something about him that they just never seemed to get. He said he was the Christ, the Anointed One, and so their strong cultural definition of the Messiah was something they projected onto Jesus, but time after time it just never fit. Then he gets arrested, tried in a farce of a proceeding, put to death like a common criminal and buried for three days. After that, he is no longer in the tomb, but has risen from the dead and appeared to them many times. Now they’re gathered forty days later, and he promises the gift of the Holy Spirit. They breathlessly ask the question that has always been on their minds, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They still don’t get it.

And so Jesus promises them the Holy Spirit again, and ascends into the sky. Can you imagine it? It’s like a roller coaster of emotions for them. Their heads had to be spinning, they had to be completely lost as to what to do now. First he was dead and buried, then he came back, and now he’s gone again. What on earth are they to do now? Well, the two mysterious men dressed in white garments have all the advice they’re going to get: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” It’s almost as if God is telling them, “You’ll see what comes next, just get on with it.” And so they do, and they’ll get more help next week on Pentecost, with the coming of the Holy Spirit. But until then, it’s enough for them and us to be a bit speechless.

We should be a little speechless too. Honestly, I think these stories have become so engrained in our cultural experience of our religion that we just tend to treat them as nothing special. But we should be speechless, because the Ascension, as well as the Resurrection, are game-changers for us. Nothing like that ever happened before, and it made possible our eternity; the greatest gift we’ll ever have. We should be astounded!

And then, like the apostles, we need to get on with it. Because the Ascension has very specific meaning for our mission. I think we get three directions in today’s feast. First, Christ promises us that he will be with us always. That’s what Jesus says to the disciples – and to us! – in the very last words of the very last verse of the very last chapter of Matthew’s Gospel: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” This is such an essential point of faith for us to get: Jesus our Lord will be with us every day, every moment, right up to the end of the age. And he is present in our Church today. His abiding presence is with us when we gather in his name, when we worship, hear the Word proclaimed and celebrate the sacraments. And he is with us, too, when we serve others, being those hands and feet of Jesus in a tangible way.

The second direction that the Ascension gives us is that Jesus has gone to heaven to prepare a place for us. He goes to heaven to pave the way, because we had lost the way, affected as we all are by original sin and by the sins of our life. Since we did not know the way, he prepares it for us: opening the door, so to speak, and greeting us. So we believers who have forged a relationship with our Lord can now look to him to see how to get to that heavenly reward. All we have to do is follow, and we will find ourselves in that place God intended for us from the beginning.

And finally, the Ascension reminds us that the Christian Mission has been entrusted to our hands. Christ has ascended into heaven, he has returned to the Father. So, yes, on this feast of the Ascension of the Lord, we are rightly struck speechless, but now it’s time for us to take up the Cross, to preach the Word in our words and actions, and to witness to the joy of Christ’s presence among us. If people are ever going to come to know Christ, if they are ever going to be challenged to grow in their faith, if they are ever going to know that there is something greater than themselves, they’re going to have to see that witness in other people, and it needs to be us. We have to be transparent in our living so that people won’t be caught up on us, but will come through us to see Jesus, to see the Father, to experience the Spirit. We are the ones commanded 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…” The mission is entrusted to us now.

The speechlessness has to be over. The Psalmist tells us that God mounts his throne to shouts of joy. We must be joyous in living our life as Christians, assured of God’s abiding presence until the end of time, looking forward to our heavenly reward, and living the mission for all to see. We must no longer be speechless, but instead be a blare of trumpets for the Lord!

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Today’s readings

In these days after the Ascension, the Liturgy calls us to turn and find our hope and security in God.  Certainly this was difficult for the early disciples, who tested Jesus to see if he was who he said he was.  They were satisfied with what they found, and said they believed in him.  But Jesus here speaks an essential truth of the spiritual life: it’s easy to believe when things are going okay.  He prophecies that they will all be tested, and indeed they were, and were scattered, and had to come to belive in him all over again.

The same will be true for us disciples in our own lives.  We can make an easy enough profession of faith when we are well and things are going smoothly.  But the minute some kind of challenge enters our lives, we have to decide if we are believers all over again.  It’s not easy to believe in the ascended Jesus – he is not immediately visible to our sight.  But, even though he is unseen, he is still very much with us.

He may be in the heaven of our hopes, but he also walks among us.  We have to look for signs of his presence everywhere we go.  And we will find those signs in moments of joy, times of inspiration, words from others that uplift us, and, especially, in the Eucharist.  Jesus didn’t disappear from our lives when he ascended into heaven; he promised to be with us until the end of time.  We are sustained by the hope that we will join him one day in the place he is preparing for us.

The world may very well scatter us and give us trouble; Jesus said as much.  But we can take courage in the fact that Jesus has overcome the world and has not abandoned us.

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Today's readings [display_podcast]

What wonderful words of encouragement and consolation we have in today’s Gospel reading: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”  We can think of all sorts of situations in which these words would be welcome.  We have all experienced health problems in ourselves or in those close to us, job difficulties, family problems, and so many more.  How wonderfully consoling it is to know that in the midst of the many storms we daily face, our Savior is there offering us peace.

But the peace Jesus offers us in this reading is a bit different from what we might expect.  It’s not the mere absence of conflict, nor is it any kind of placating peace the world might offer us.  This peace is a genuine one, a peace that comes from the inside out, a peace that calms our troubled minds and hearts even if it does not remove the storm.  There is a contemporary song that says, “Sometimes he calms the storm, and other times he calms his child.” 

God knows that we walk through storms every day.  He experienced that first-hand in the person of Jesus as he walked our walk in his earthly life.  He knows our joys and our pains, and reaches out to us in every one of them with his abiding presence and his loving embrace.  Just because he does not walk the earth today, does not mean God has left us alone in it.  His presence abides in us through the Church, through the holy people God has put in our lives, through his presence in our moments of prayer and reflection, and in so many ways we could never count them all.  This peace from the inside out is one that our God longs for us to know, whether we are traversing calm waters or braving a vicious storm.

Our Psalm today responds for us to this gift of peace: “May my mouth speak the praise of the LORD, and may all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.”  In our quiet moments in today’s liturgy, we should all take some time to realize the gift of God’s peace.