Ascension of the Lord – 26 May 2017

It is a day of joy and hope

Scripture Reading – Matthew 28:16-20

Go and make disciples of all nations

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.’

Gospel reading – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com

REFLECTION

“It is a day of joy and hope”

by Val Collier

Today is the feast of the Ascension. It is a day of joy and hope. Jesus has won a victory over sin and death and goes back to the Father.  The importance of the Ascension is the truth it points to – which is that our destiny and dignity is to be raised body and soul at the Last Judgement, to share in the glory of the Risen Christ. For just as Christ rose, so will we; just as Christ ascended so will we.

The Gospel today also reminds us of the mission of the Church; to “go and make disciples of all nations”. As a Church we are called to engage with the world and all the problems we see around it; to recognise all that is good in the world and be hopeful about the ways we can help bring about change in the world. This is a tough and challenging mission. However, the final words of Jesus in today‘s Gospel are most reassuring. “Know that I am with you always; yes to the end of time”.  The constancy of God’s loving presence with us is most encouraging and reassuring, especially at those times when we meet with opposition and seem to fail.

Today is also World Communications Day. Communication is a vital part of our lives as human beings. Through our words, our behaviour, our actions, we convey a host of messages around how we relate or want to relate to one another in our world. Our messages can be messages of love or hatred, generosity or selfishness, a care for one another and for the earth, and either hope or despair. Relationships are built and sustained through communication with our families, communities, societies, indeed with the human family throughout the world. We connect with our God through prayerful communication.

The Christian Story, the story of God’s saving love for us as revealed in the life, death, resurrection and Ascension of Jesus is a powerful Good News story. This is the story, which as followers of Christ we are charged with communicating. As Church, our task is to go out and tell that story in a world that is fractured and broken;   and, guided by the Holy Spirit to carry on the healing and transforming work of Jesus.  We need to do this with great respect and integrity and in an inclusive way. For as Pope Francis reminds us… Christ has come to save all nations and peoples. And so we take care to respect the religious beliefs of others. Of course it is important that we try to live to the best of our ability the Christian message we are proclaiming.  The witness of a life well lived, carries more weight than what we say. We can draw encouragement from what Blessed Mother Teresa said; “I don’t pray for success; I pray that I may be a faithful witness”. May God Bless You All. Amen.

LECTIO DIVINA

by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB

Introduction to Lectio Divine

The concluding scene of the gospel narrates the appearance of Jesus to his disciples. The mountain in Galilee, his field of mission, is the place for the Risen Lord’s final instruction. Jesus exercises the new power he has received by sending his disciples to the world with a precise mission: to baptize those who believe and teach them to do his will. The disciples who know that they are destined to reach the ends of the world with this twofold task, will not be abandoned by their Risen Lord, not even for one day. This incident marks the birth of the community of disciples who will fill their days in obedience, carrying out the will of their Lord. The obedient disciple who teaches others to obey can count on the permanent assistance of the Lord. The Lord has left his disciples in the world but he has not abandoned them.  Obedience to the commandment he taught them, and fidelity to a mission with no limits other than the ends of the earth, will ensure for them the permanent presence of the Risen Lord.

Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it

Matthew finishes his gospel on a solemn note: the Risen Lord sends out his disciples and institutes the universal mission of the Church. After the resurrection, the community of disciples will not be idle – they have the world as their mission. The account of the “birth” of their mission is brief and for that reason the details are all the more significant.

Before receiving their mission, the disciples have to go to Galilee. The mission of the disciples sent by the Lord must begin where his mission began. They are sent because they have first obeyed. They went to the mountain, precisely where they were told to go. As Moses had done before, Jesus now calls together eleven missionaries, his new people, on a mountain, to give them a law, the gospel. Because they were in the place where they were told to be, they will see him and recognise him immediately. Because they obeyed, their doubts were resolved, and they adored the one, who, a short while previously, they did not believe had risen.

When they adored him, Jesus drew near to them, not as the master they had known but as the Lord to be adored. The Risen Lord, conscious of his authority, reveals himself to them as their sovereign. He does not waste time in comforting them. He orders them, because now he has authority over every created thing. He exercises that authority by sending them out.

The early Christian conviction that Jesus became universal Lord through his resurrection was first proclaimed from the lips of Christ himself. The mission of the apostles is an exercise of the power he had received. The mandate that must be obeyed is to make of the world a Christian “school”. Go and teach – both verbs are in the imperative.  With the mandate there is a promise – he will be with them always. As long as they are disciples for the world, he will be with them. His accompanying them always depends on their obedience. Jesus not only tells them to go into the world and make disciples of all nations. He also tells them how they are to achieve this – by baptising them in the name of the Triune God and teaching them to obey in everything. The gift of the Lord’s continued presence is not given gratis: they must go out to the world and teach it to obey.

Meditate: apply what the text says to life

Strange as it may seem, the gospel speaks about the absence of Jesus from the world. The meaning of the Lord’s ascension into heaven is, in effect, that he left this world and separated himself from the disciples who were left standing there staring into the sky.

The fact that we celebrate Jesus’ physical separation from us as a feast should make us reflect: what were the reasons that prompted the Christian community to treat the absence of Jesus as an occasion for joy and celebration? What is good about being alone in a world where God becomes ever less present? How can we feel good at a time when more and more people live as if God is no longer with us? The Word of God comes to our help and reminds us that, even if we feel abandoned by God in this present world, there are still reasons not to lose hope, and, above all, we must continue our mission until the Lord returns.

After the resurrection Jesus remained with his disciples for a while. He needed to convince them that he was really alive. He availed of the opportunity to spend time with them and explain to them what had happened to him in the light of God’s promises. He convinced them that he was alive by sharing bread with them. With the Risen Lord they succeed in overcoming their fears and uncertainties. It is easy to imagine the joy and consolation they experienced. But the enthusiasm and euphoria of having the Lord with them again was to be short-lived. They had just got used to having the Risen Lord close to them when Jesus told them that he was thinking of leaving them. He promised to return but did not say when or how.  The disciples’ joy at having Jesus with them lasted only a few days.  His absence has gone on for centuries – maybe we have even forgotten that he will one day return. Twenty centuries is a long time for the disciples to feel abandoned!

As a Christian community we continue to live in the situation which Jesus inaugurated at his Ascension into heaven. Is it really a reason to celebrate our solitude or, rather, is it a reason for us to remain faithful to the Lord who is ‘seated at the right hand of the Father’?

Certainly, yes! The gospel gives us two reasons. Jesus has left us but he has given us a mission to carry out. And as he did so, he inaugurated that absolute sovereignty which God had awarded him when he raised him from the dead. With the world as our mission we don’t have time to worry about feeling alone. As long as there is even one country that has not heard and learnt what he has taught, there is urgent reason to obey him. We have to accept that the mission is not an activity we have chosen to help us pass the time. The evangelization of the world was, and still is, an act of obedience that we owe to our Lord.  The disciple of the Lord is not in the world to contemplate it, but to conquer it. The world is not just the place where we live but a school of apprenticeship. We should not, therefore, remain on earth with our eyes turned to heaven, paying no heed to what is going on around us, as if it had nothing to do with our hope. It is of little use fixing our attention on heaven, where the Risen Jesus is now, if we are not concerned about the earth where he will return one day for us. The rebuke which the disciples received on Ascension Day is, unfortunately, still valid for us today. We stand staring into the sky all day and we do nothing to make the earth a better place. That is not the way to wait for the Lord who is to come!

Jesus did not only make promises when he went up to heaven. He said he would return and he left a task for those who were awaiting his return. “Go, make disciples of all nations.” When he left the earth, Jesus did not leave us alone and abandoned. Rather, he left us a task to do. He left us to evangelize the world, to make it a school where people are taught to do his will, and to make all people his disciples.

Two thousand years after his command, there is still a lot to be done. There is no excuse for continuing to waste time, even if we spend it looking up to heaven. Fixing our minds and hearts, our eyes and our attention, on heaven, where God is, will not make us better disciples of Jesus. We need to look around us at the people with whom we share our lives on earth. Some do not share our fortune or our faith. Some cannot find meaning in life. We need to look at the young people whom we distrust because we have not been able to earn their trust, and the children who look to us to give them education and faith, and a reason to be faithful to God.

Until Jesus returns we have no right to seek salvation for ourselves alone, staring into our particular heaven and paying no heed to the earth. Jesus promised to return and he told us how to spend our time while we are waiting for him. The long period of waiting is to be spent in missionary work. Only those who have worked to win the earth for Christ will see him when he returns. The disciple of Jesus does not live for himself alone, nor even only for God. For as long as he is on earth, he will have the earth as his mission.  He will have to make others disciples of the Lord if the Lord is to consider him a faithful disciple. When the Lord returns he will not approve those who kept the faith because they took no risks, but those who multiplied faith by making new disciples.

There is no other way of being a disciple today. Jesus misses us greatly, and it may well be that we miss him, but we must not desert the mission he has entrusted to us. The world is the limit he has set on our missionary effort. He has given us his word that he is with us. Christ has assured us he will not abandon us, as long as we remain committed to his mission. We need to keep that ever in mind.

Pray the text. Desire God’s will: What do I say to God?

It is significant, Lord, that the messengers you sent to the world were disciples who did what you told them. Before becoming apostles, they had to be obedient. Could it be for that reason that I do not feel myself sent by you? Is it that you did not find me where you expected me to be, and for that reason you did not send me to the world with your power and your gospel? Grant me the obedience that you ask of me to be able to go where you send me.

It is also significant, Lord, that you decide to send your representatives to the world because you know that you have that power.  Your apostles scattered throughout the world are proof of your dominion. If I know that I am sent by you, then I will know that you are my Lord and Lord of the world. My mission is the fruit of your power. Why, then, am I so afraid of the world? If it is at your command that I am to make the world a ‘school of the gospel’, why do I offer so much resistance? Is it that I do not believe that you count on me? Or do I not believe you when you say that you are Lord of all creation?

PRAYER

Almighty God,
fill us with a holy joy;
teach us how to thank you with reverence and love
on account of the ascension of Christ your Son.
You have raised us up with him:
where he, the head, has preceded us in glory,
there we, the body, are called in hope.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

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