Feast of the Ascension
|First reading||Acts 1:1-11 ©|
IN my earlier work, Theophilus, I dealt with everything Jesus had done and taught from the beginning until the day he gave his instructions to the apostles he had chosen through the Holy Spirit, and was taken up to heaven. He had shown himself alive to them after his Passion by many demonstrations: for forty days he had continued to appear to them and tell them about the kingdom of God. When he had been at table with them, he had told them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for what the Father had promised. ‘It is’ he had said ‘what you have heard me speak about: John baptised with water but you, not many days from now, will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’
Now having met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, has the time come? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know times or dates that the Father has decided by his own authority, but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth.’
As he said this he was lifted up while they looked on, and a cloud took him from their sight. They were still staring into the sky when suddenly two men in white were standing near them and they said, ‘Why are you men from Galilee standing here looking into the sky? Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, this same Jesus will come back in the same way as you have seen him go there.’
|Matthew 28:16-20 ©|
THE eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them. When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated. Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’
MY FIRST trip to the airport was in 1978. I was four years old then. We went there to send-off my father to work as an overseas contract worker in Saudi Arabia. Back then, I remember asking my mother: “WHY HE HAS TO GO?
This reminds me of the poem entitled “Footprints in the sand” by Mary Stevenson. It’s a poem that tells the story of her dream “walking along the beach with the Lord.” In the dream—while walking with Jesus—she saw scenes from her life flash across the sky and noticed that in the sand there were sometimes two sets of footprints and sometimes, only one. Most importantly she noticed that the times she saw only one set of footprints were the times of her life when she was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat. She assumed that the Lord left her. So she had to ask the Lord: WHY DO YOU HAVE TO LEAVE?
In our readings today, the disciples saw our Lord’s ascension. Perhaps, while they were watching him being “lifted up,” and being taken “out of their sight,” they were also asking the same question: WHY DID HE HAVE TO GO?
First of all, we cannot separate the ascension of Jesus from his dying on the cross and his resurrection. Neither can we separate it from the coming of the Holy Spirit in Pentecost—which we are going to celebrate next week. The dying, rising, and ascending of Jesus, as well as the coming of the Holy Spirit are all parts of the one single act of love by God. And the purpose of God’s LOVE is for us to be united with Him—in glory, in eternal life.
Original sin caused humanity to be separated from God. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God was able to make all of us “A New Creation.” Because of Jesus’ victory over death, our relationship with God is restored AND with a bonus! For now we not only call God our LORD just like the people of the Old Testament did; because of Christ’s humanity, we can call God “OUR FATHER!” We are not just servants but children of God.
For this, the ascension of Jesus is in a sense God’s way of showing and telling us: This is what you’ll have; this is what you’re going to be! A new life of happiness and joy. A life of peace and harmony. A life with God! So the ascension is much about us as it is about Christ. At the same time, the ascension is telling us that Jesus had to leave this world—this universe. He must not belong here just as WE MUST NOT BELONG HERE. The gospel message for each one of us is that this world is not our final home. Yes we try to be good people while we are on this earth. Yes we try to be holy. Nevertheless, we must not lose sight of our true destiny that is the eternal life Jesus gained for us.
How are we going to achieve this? We heard Jesus telling us in the gospel last week: “If you love me, keep my commandments…anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them will be the ones who loves me…” and “…my Father, and I shall love him and show myself to him.” Also, notice that in today’s gospel, before Jesus leaves his disciples, he gives them their mission: “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.”
The mission of the Apostles of proclaiming God’s kingdom and being witnesses to the good news of Christ is the same mission we receive every time we conclude our celebration of the Mass; when the priest or deacon say: “Ite missa est—Go, it is sent.” Just like the apostles we are being sent on a mission to evangelise with the assurance that we can do this because his Spirit will be with us ‘till the end of world. We can no longer see Jesus but he remains with us.
Going back to the poem. When Mary Stevenson asked the Lord: Why did you leave me all alone? The Lord replied: My child, I LOVE YOU AND I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU. “The times when you have seen only one set of footprints, is when I carried you.” ###