08May 08 May. The Ascension of the Lord

1st Reading: Acts 1:1-11

Ascension concludes Jesus’ ministry and prepares for 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.”

2nd Reading: Ephesians 1:17-23

God has raised Jesus and exalted him. It is a privilege 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

Jesus wants a group of missionary believers; and will be with them always

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 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.”



Kieran O’Mahony writes: The Gospel, even in its short version, makes for a wonderful conclusion to the Luke’s first volume. He is a very self-aware writer and his choice of conclusion is extremely well thought out and correspondingly worth careful attention. All of us have made “transitions,” great and small. Luke focuses on the transition from the time of Jesus to the time of the mission. His audio file may be downloaded here.

Evangelisation and responsibility

We have heard this final command of Jesus: Go and make disciples of all nations. The Gospel is not to remain within the small group of disciples. They have to move out from where they are in order to reach the whole world. Without doubt, these words were enthusiastically being heeded when Christians were in full expansion and their communities were multiplying all over the Empire. But how do we listen to them today when we see ourselves powerless even to retain those who are leaving our churches because they feel they no longer need our religion?

The first thing to do is to live from the very start with absolute trust in God’s action. This is what Jesus taught us. God keeps working with infinite love on the heart and conscience of all God’s sons and daughters, though we may consider them “lost sheep.” God is not blocked by any crisis. God is not waiting for us to set in motion, starting from the Church, our plans of restoration or our projects of innovation. God keeps acting in the Church and outside of the Church. No one lives abandoned by God, though they may have never heard anyone speak of Jesus’ Gospel.

But all this does not dispense us from our responsibility. We have to start asking ourselves new questions:  Along which pathways is God walking to find men and women of modern culture? How does he want to make present the Good News of Jesus to the men and women of our day?

We have to ask ourselves something else too: What invitations is God sending to us to transform our traditional form of thinking, expressing, celebrating, and incarnating the Christian faith so that we may facilitate God’s action within modern culture? Do we not run the risk, with our inaction and stagnation, of becoming the restraint and the cultural obstacle to the incarnation of the Gospel in contemporary society?

No one knows what Christian faith will look like in the new world that is emerging, but it is not likely that it would be a “clone” of the past. The Gospel has power to usher in a new Christianity. [J.A.Pagola]

Waiting in prayerful Hope

We live in a fast-moving age, most noticeable if you drive a car on the motorway, or indeed on any road not strictly monitored. You can be driving along sedately within the speed limit, and suddenly be aware of another vehicle  bearing down on you, almost grazing your back fender. Such situations put us under pressure to go faster. Everyone seems in such a hurry. ‘Rush, Rush. Rush’, ‘Time is money’ they seem be be saying. In this culture, waiting goes against the grain and is often experienced as something negative, to be avoided. If we have to wait longer than we planned, we can get very impatient. On this we have much to learn from other cultures who have a more relaxed attitude towards time.

Even our own experience tells us that waiting is a necessary part of life. There are certain things that cannot be rushed. If we become ill, we know we have to wait until we recover before taking up our normal pace again. We may have learned from bitter experience that if we go back to work before we are ready the last state can become worse than the first. Our failure to wait can have harmful consequences. That is equally true when it comes to how we relate to others. A new born child will grow at a certain rate. Parents adjust themselves to the child’s pace. They would never try to force a child to walk before he or she is ready, for example. In our dealing with other adults, we often have to learn to wait as well. Everyone has their own pace, their own rhythm. We can often expect people to move at our pace, rather than allowing them to move at their own pace. We might come to clarity about something very quickly, whereas it might take others longer to come to the same clarity. We can get impatient with the pace of others when it is slower than our own. It can be a struggle to wait on them. The temptation to go ahead on our own can be strong. Yet, waiting is not only respectful of the other person it can also serve us well. We can learn something by having to wait that we might not otherwise have learnt.

Today we celebrate the Ascension, that moment when Jesus was no longer present to his disciples in a visible, bodily form. Before taking leave of them, he commissioned them to preach the gospel to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. But before the disciples were to set out on that mission, he called on them to wait. He said, ‘Wait in Jerusalem for what the Father had promised’, or in the words of the gospel, ‘Stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high.’ The disciples might have been tempted to get straight down to work, for the Lord’s work is urgent and there is no time to waste. Yet, he asked them to take their time, to wait. In a sense, he was asking them to work according to God’s time, rather than their own time. After all, it was God’s work they were being asked to do, not their own. The time of waiting was an opportunity to adjust themselves to the Lord’s rhythm, rather than their own. In calling on them to wait until the Spirit came to them, he was reminding them that the Lord of the work is more important than the work of the Lord, and they could really only do God’s work in the strength that God provided, and he would provide that strength in his own time rather than in their time.

The Ascension reminds us that, as well as learning to wait on ourselves and on each other, we also need to wait on the Lord. He says to all of us what he says to his first disciples in that first reading, ‘You shall be my witnesses’; he asks all of us to be his visible, bodily expression in the world. If we are to be faithful to that calling, we need to learn to wait on God’s prompting. The primary way we can do this is through prayer. That is how the first disciples understood the Lord’s call to wait. The gospel tells us that after Jesus ascended they went back to Jerusalem, where they were continually in the Temple praising God. The Acts of the Apostles tells how they gathered in an upper room where they were constantly devoting themselves to prayer. For us too, waiting on the Lord takes the form of prayer, when we open ourselves to receive from the Lord all that we need in order to be his witnesses in the world. That is why prayer is at the heart of our lives as Christians, whether it is the public prayer of the church, such as the Eucharist, or our own personal prayer. We often think of prayer as asking God for something. That is, of course, one aspect of prayer, but more fundamentally prayer is about waiting. Prayer is more a waiting on what the Lord wants to give us than asking him for what we want. Such prayer of waiting does not always need words. It is an attitude of heart, and silence can express it better than any words we might speak. We know from our own experience that waiting on others is often best done in silence. The Ascension invites us to enter more fully into that prayer of waiting as we prepare ourselves for Pentecost next Sunday. [BG]


Last Will and Testament

Today’s final paragraph of St Matthew’s gospel does not describe the ascension, but reports some of our Lord’s final instructions to his disciples before leaving them. I was once speaking to an elderly parishioner who was troubled over making a will. In her mind making a will, or receiving what were then called “The Last Sacraments” were things that you put off until the last moment. There was something rather ominous about it. Some of us may know families that became completely divided because someone hadn’t decided to clearly make their will. In today’s gospel, Jesus has little to say, but he is clear 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 first thing about the disciples is that at least they did what he told them to do. He asked them to meet him on the mountain, and they did that. Like any gathering of human beings, each had his own emotions. 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.

Notice that Jesus begins his few words by telling them that he, not they, have full authority in heaven and on earth. In an earlier account in Luke’s gospel, he says, “I have given you full authority over all the power of the evil one.” The full authority over everything, however, is something that he reserves to himself. Those who go in his name, do so with his full authority. The authority goes with the mission. That is why he adds, “Go, therefore.”; in other words, 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. After telling them what to do, 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 essentially to teach others all that he had taught them. As Jesus 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 things that matter have not changed at all:

We write a page of our gospel each day
through the things we do and whatever we say.
People will know if it’s faithful and true.
What is the gospel according to you?

Even sharing with another something you heard here today that you find helpful could be a way of witnessing to Christ. It will be clear to anyone who wishes to see, that someone who is trying to live the sort of life Jesus taught us must be a powerful witness, indeed. There seems to be a lot of loneliness and depression around today, or maybe we are now more aware of it. Being alone is not the same as being lonely. I could be among a crowd and still be lonely. On the other hand, as the wise Cicero once said, once may feel never less alone than when alone (minus solum, quam cum solus esse). This applies especially to any who take seriously the final words of today’s gospel, “l am with you always.” Like a young mother, nursing her baby while it is sound asleep, communication doesn’t always need words. If one is open to the presence and reality of the Lord in my life, then God responds to that, and we can live with a conscious awareness of his presence. [MH]


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