Ascension of the Lord (May 10/13, 2018)
We celebrate Jesus’ departure in his physical presence today, the solemnity of the Ascension. Today marks the end of Jesus’ priceless, first stage of God’s saving plan in Jesus, the final chapter in Jesus’ physical presence in the history of salvation and the beginning of the second stage, which involves you and me.
The narration of the ascension appears three times in the New Testament; we hear two of them in today’s readings.
Mark wrote the earliest account and it appears in the longer ending of his Gospel – an account that was added by another author at a later time. The addition is considered part of the inspired word. Mark’s narrative is succinct and right to the point, only one sentence, his usual style and part of the reason that his Gospel is the shortest.
The seven last words of Jesus, the topic of many a Good Friday homily, are actually not his last words. We heard those today in Mark: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation.”
The mission of Jesus is complete. It now is left to those standing there to take up his mission. Jesus makes it clear in his parting words that the initial mission to the Jews is not enough; it is to be expanded. He calls on his disciples to carry the Good News not simply to the Jews, but to the entire world. There is to be no partiality shown to any people or nation or individual. The disciples are not to serve any earthly kingdom, but the heavenly one.
The story of the church begins. It is a church where, at that time, the temple of Jerusalem still stands – and will for almost forty more years. It is a church that is surrounded by the oppression of the Roman Empire – and will for hundreds of years. In the meantime, the church will begin to spread throughout that empire and beyond -- like the quietly growing mustard seed.
Luke, in his Acts of the Apostles, narrates an element that is included in neither his Gospel, nor in the Gospel of mark [from which Luke copied before copying got the name plagiarism and became a no-no]. Luke adds to the narration: “They were still gazing up into the heavens when two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘Why do you stand here looking up at the skies…?’”
The apparent angels equivalently proclaim: “Don’t just stand there, do something.” Perhaps that is a good question for us on this feast of the ascension.
Each of us is called by today’s readings to “do something.” The celebration of the one who inspires and energizes us will be next week, Pentecost.
We are called to continue the mission that the disciples were given – each in our own way to spread by word and our example Jesus’ life-giving message.