Final moments with Jesus, Ascension, departure, a new presence, at the Father’s right hand, glorified. This Sunday we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord into heaven. In the Creed we confess our faith in Christ who “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father”. But what exactly do we mean by saying that he ascended into heaven? We mean that the Risen Lord is not only totally alive, but also that the Father has placed Christ at His right hand, an expression that signifies the Father glorifying Christ and making him the Lord of all creation. As we hear in today’s Gospel, to him “is given all power in heaven and on earth” (Mt. 28.18).
Why did Jesus leave his disciples forty days after his resurrection?
Jesus’ departure and ascension into heaven was both an end and a beginning for his disciples. While it was the end of Jesus’ physical presence with his beloved disciples, it marked the beginning of Jesus’ presence with them in a new way. Jesus promised that he would be with them always to the end of time (Matthew 28:20). Now as the glorified and risen Lord and Savior, ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven, Jesus promised to send them the Holy Spirit who would anoint them with power from on high on the Feast of Pentecost, just as Jesus was anointed for his ministry at the River Jordan (Luke 3:21-22, 4:1,18).
When the Lord Jesus departed physically from the apostles, they were not left in sorrow or grief. Instead, they were filled with joy and with great anticipation for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The Father raised the glorified body of his Son and enthroned him in glory at his right hand in heaven. The Lord Jesus in his glorified body now reigns as Lord over the heavens and the earth – over all that he has created. The Risen Lord reigns from the throne in heaven as our Merciful Redeemer and Gracious King. He intercedes for us and he empowers us through the outpouring of his Holy Spirit. The Lord Jesus gives us new life in his Spirit and he strengthens us in faith, hope and love so we can serve him and carry on his work as citizens of his kingdom here on earth.
How can we be effective witnesses for Christ? Jesus told his disciples, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you – and you shall be my witnesses… to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Jesus gives his followers the same power he received when the Holy Spirit came upon him and anointed him at the beginning of his mission (John 1:32-33).
In today’s gospel, Jesus is quite definite about what he wants to happen after he has left the scene. He asked his disciples to meet him on the mountain, and they did that. Like any gathering of people, their feelings and expectations were varied. Some of them worshiped him, while some of them still doubted if his project could continue. Jesus 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.
They were to go out in his name, and speak the Gospel 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 powerful promise, “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 program 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.
There is a saying you may have heard, which goes, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would they find enough evidence to convict you?”
Today remember this: Jesus does not give us heaven on earth; he gives us a mission.
“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.
To summarize my homily today let me tell you a little story:
After attending a convention led by Billy Graham a woman wrote to him. “Dear Sir, I feel that God is calling me to preach the Gospel. But the trouble is that I have twelve children. What shall I do?” The televangelist replied: “Dear Madam, I am delighted to hear that God has called you to preach the Gospel. I am even more delighted to hear that He has already provided you with a congregation in your own home.”