1st June (Sunday). The Ascension of the Lord.
First Reading: Acts 1:1-11
(Ascension concludes Jesus’ ministry on earth and prepares for the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost.)
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
2) Ephesians 1:17-23
(God has raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him above every created being. It is a privelege to belong to his body, the church.)
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20
(Before he leaves this world, Jesus gives his disciples a magnificent mission. Through his power they are to form a new, world-wide community and he will be with them always.)
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Last Will and Testament
The final paragraph of St Matthew’s gospel makes no direct reference to the ascension, but it gives us the Lord’s final instructions, his Last Will and Testament. I was speaking to somebody the other day who was troubled over making a will. She had grown up in those times when making a will, or receiving what were called “The Last Sacraments” were things that you put off until the last moment. There was something ominous about it. Indeed some of us may know families that were left completely divided because someone hadn’t made a will. In today’s gospel, Jesus has little to say, but he is definite about what he has to say. This is in sharp contrast to the fact that, even at this last minute, some of his disciples still doubted. The disciples did what he told them to do. He asked them to meet him on the mountain, and they did that. Like any gathering of people, their feelings were varied. Some of them worshipped him, while some of them still doubted. Jesus didn’t seem to have any great problem with that, because he knew that, when the Spirit came, all of those doubts would be ended. It would seem, indeed, that he was in a hurry to take his leave of them, so that the second part of his plan of salvation could get underway.
In an earlier episode Jesus says, “I have given you authority over the power of the evil one.” But authority over everything, however, is something that he reserves to himself. Those who go in his name, do so with his authority. The authority goes with the mission, so he adds, “Go, therefore.” As if to say, “because I have the authority, you can go wherever I send you. My power, my promises, and my Spirit will go with you, and will see you through.” Then he concludes with the clear and definite promise, “and be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The mission of the apostles was simple to understand; difficult to carry out. It was to teach others all that he had taught them. Just as he asked his disciples to obey him, they were to ask that others should obey his directions and instructions also. This is like when a doctor puts you on a course of antibiotics. The original sin was a lie. The Spirit is a spirit of truth. One of the rules connected with taking antibiotics is that it is essential to complete the course. Some people begin to feel well after a few days, and they discontinue taking the medicine and, of course, their condition gets worse. The programme of redemption and salvation must continue from generation to generation, until the end of time. With all the changes in the church and in society, the two things that have not changed are Jesus himself, and every word of his message. The Message and the Messenger have never, and never will change. People who are bothered about changes in the church today should be reminded that the only two things that matter have not changed at all.
“You write a new page of the gospel each day, through the things that you do and the words that you say. People will read what you write, whether faithful or true. What is the gospel according to you?” Even sharing with another something you heard here today that you find helpful is to give witness. It must seem obvious to anyone who wishes to see, that the evidence of someone who is trying to live the sort of life that Jesus has taught us to live, must be a powerful witness, indeed. There seems to be a lot of depression around today, or it may be that we are now more conscious or aware of it. But there is a great difference between being alone and being lonely. I could be in the midst of a crowd, and be lonely; while one can also feel, like Cicero, never less alone than when alone ( minus solum, quam cum solus esset, De officiis 3.1). This applies especially to those who take seriously the final words of today’s gospel, “lam with you always.” Communication with our Lord doesn’t even need words. If I am open to His presence in my life, and live with a conscious awareness of his presence, I can experience fully that “Joy of the Gospel” about which Pope Francis so eloquently speaks.