During the Easter season we have focused on Jesus’ two-step plan: faith and action. In the Gospel we see how faith guides action. This can be seen in the longest recorded prayer of Jesus in the Gospel of John. Jesus prayed this aloud at his last supper meal with his disciples (John 17:20). Jesus’ prayer shows the great love and trust he had for his beloved disciples.
He said, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. Jesus knew they would abandon him in his hour of trial, yet he entrusted to them the great task of spreading his name throughout the world and to the end of the ages.” At the end Jesus added, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” (Luke 24:46-49). He was referring to the gift of the Holy Spirit.
This prayer most clearly reveals the heart and mind of Jesus – who and what he loved most – love for his Father in heaven and love for all who believe in him. His prayer focuses on the love and unity he desires for all who would believe in him and follow him, not only in the present, but in the future as well. The Lord Jesus entrusts us today with this same mission – to make him known and loved by all. Jesus died and rose again that all might be one as he and the Father are one. This brings us to “The Ascension of the Lord.”
Have you noticed the trend in TV dramas that there are “series with numerous plots.” The series usually pulls all the plot lines together before it ends, the best example being the show “Blue Bloods.” But, we soon forget what the previous week’s show was all about and need to be reminded of them before each episode. A series will begin with, “Previously on” to remind us.
St. Luke did something like that. He concluded today’s gospel, with the Ascension of the Lord and the directive to the disciples to be “witnesses to the world of the wonders of the Kingdom of God.” St. Luke later authors the “Acts of the Apostles.” It is the story of the Early Church and the ministries of Peter and Paul from Jerusalem to Rome. At the very beginning of Acts we hear again about the Lord’s Ascension and the directive to the disciples to be “witnesses to the world of the wonders of God’s Kingdom.” This is very much a “previously on”, as to what is currently happening in the first days of the Church.
Jesus told the disciples to wait for “the promise of the Father” rather than departing from Jerusalem. They were not going to be abandoned. They were called. The main focus of the disciples are to be witnesses. When Jesus disappears from the disciples sight, they return to Jerusalem. They don’t mourn because Jesus left them. They are filled with joy! Joy, because Jesus promised them he will send the Spirit of the Lord and that one day he will return.
The whole Acts of the Apostles is about their witnessing. In a very fitting way, St. Paul’s prayer is a beautiful add-on: “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call.” This is a call for to be witnesses to God and for Christ.
When we hear the term witness we naturally think of a witness to an accident or a witness in a court room. Being a witness is much more than the reporting on an incident In calling the disciples to be witnesses, St. Luke is telling them, and us, to report on the entire story of salvation history. We are to proclaim to the world that the spiritual is real, that mankind sacrificed the spiritual for the pleasures of the world, and that God loves us so much that he restored the spiritual through the sacrifice of His Son. We are to proclaim that there is more to life than what meets the eye. Jesus Christ is still with us. His Holy Spirit empowers us. Our sins will be forgiven. Everlasting life is offered to us.
We are to be witnesses, but how? What we say is of minimal importance. What we do is to witness with our lives. People should, as the old hymn said, “Know we are Christians by our love.” It should be clear to all around us that God is the center of our lives. We need to live in a way that proclaims Christ. Our lives should be our witness. We need to follow the example of so many who have and who are forfeiting their physical lives for the sake of their spiritual lives. The expression of martyr reminds us we are to be a witness.
We probably will not be called upon to make the choice of choosing Christ or denying Him. But in other parts of the world such as in Iraq, in Asia and in Africa, people are making that very choice as we speak. They are dying because they proclaim Jesus Christ: Son of God – Born of a woman, died on the Cross, was buried, rose again after 3 days, and ascended to the right hand of his Father in Heaven. Just like the Apostles and the Saints; these are the true witnesses of Christ.
We will, also, be called upon to choose Christ and accept social suicide. We need to give witness to the fundamental truth of love in the world. We need to stand against hatred. A Christian cannot close an eye to those who further hatred. But the Christian who stands against a hate monger will often be despised. A Christian cannot stand with those who promote the destruction of life, but a Christian who stands against those who support abortion will be mocked and ridiculed. A Christian cannot allow the poor and the stranger among us to suffer, but a Christian who works for social justice will be dismissed as a bleeding heart.
We are challenged by the words of Jesus. He gives us a new commandment to “love one another as he has loved us.” He commissions us to go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. In the Gospel of Matthew (28:18-20), we find the great commissioning where Jesus said to the disciples. “All power 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of age.” He has provided us with His teachings, which are the road maps that we are to follow. In the great commissioning he has passed on to us the responsibility of completing God’s kingdom on earth. We are to preach the gospel, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and love one another as He has loved us.
He has challenged us to live our lives placing Him first in our lives. We are asked to trust Him and believe in Him. Over 2000 years ago Jesus passed on to each of us the responsibility of completing the work that he had begun here on earth – that is completing God’s kingdom. We each share in that responsibility. Each of us must decide how we will do our part to bring about His kingdom on earth. He tells us to not be afraid but to have faith in ourselves and in Him.
The Ascension should remind us that we constantly need to have an attitude of detachment when it comes to the things of this world. Of course, we should be working to make the kingdom of God a reality here and now, but we also live with the realization that its fullness will only be realized in the life of the world to come.
The Ascension should instill within us great hope; trust in God that confirms our faith, And like Him, we can transcend all of the suffering of this life and of this world and one day join Him in heaven. To where He has preceded us, to prepare places for each of us, who choose to remain firmly rooted in Him. The Ascension, then, also compels us to go after those souls who are still so far away from really knowing Jesus. It could be the person near despair; a co-worker, or a neighbor who needs to know that life is worth living and that there is a life in the world to come.
Reflecting back to the beginning of Acts, after Jesus ascends he dispatches two men with a message. We don’t focus on who the two men were but on what they say: Stop looking up to heaven – you have a mission right here. Focus on what is right in front of you, on what God wants you to do today. Leave tomorrow in God’s hand. Say, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
We can each make the world a little better, but we cannot do it on our own. We need a source of power. Next weekend wear something red. Red represents fire. Jesus wants to give us fire.
Today remember this: Jesus does not give us heaven on earth; he gives us a mission.