Reading 1 Acts 1:1-11
In the first book, Theophilus,
I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught
until the day he was taken up,
after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit
to the apostles whom he had chosen.
He presented himself alive to them
by many proofs after he had suffered,
appearing to them during forty days
and speaking about the kingdom of God.
While meeting with the them,
he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem,
but to wait for “the promise of the Father
about which you have heard me speak;
for John baptized with water,
but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
When they had gathered together they asked him,
“Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons
that the Father has established by his own authority.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
throughout Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.”
When he had said this, as they were looking on,
he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.
While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going,
suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.
They said, “Men of Galilee,
why are you standing there looking at the sky?
This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven
will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
Gospel Matthew 28:16-20
The eleven disciples went to Galilee,
to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.
When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
Then Jesus approached and said to them,
“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 the age.”
This morning we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension. Traditionally, the Ascension takes place 40 days after Easter and hence the term Ascension Thursday. In most of the dioceses in the United Sates we transfer that feast from last Thursday to the weekend because it is an important feast we need to know more about.
So what is the Ascension? If I asked most of you, you would tell me, and rightly so, that the Ascension is when Jesus was taken up into heaven by the Father, and now Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father. Our creed is very explicit about what it is. But to truly understand the Ascension we need to look at some other events in Jesus’s life.
First, God so loved us that when we sinned he sent Jesus into the world. So, the incarnation is our celebrating Jesus becoming one of us, becoming man.
We celebrate his passion, suffering and death, and his resurrection from the dead.
Today we celebrate his ascension into heaven. The Ascension in one sense is Jesus coming and now leaving us to go back to the Father.
He didn’t leave us alone. As Father Mike said, next Sunday we will celebrate Pentecost, which is when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, and it is the Spirit who lives in the Church and within us. But the Ascension is Jesus leaving our world as a man and going back to the Father.
When we look at our Scriptures, the Scripture writers were not so concerned about the fact that he rose up, but the fact that he left us and is now in heaven and that he has given each and every one of us a mission to fulfill.
In our first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles, which was written by the Gospel writer Luke, we see that the disciples follow Jesus to Bethany. In Bethany they go up on the mountain and Jesus continues to preach to them and tells them their mission. While they were there, the disciples looked at Jesus and all of a sudden he went up to heaven in a cloud. The disciples stood there staring into the sky.
The Scripture tells us that two men dressed in white appeared before them and looked at the disciples and said, “What are you doing staring up at the sky? Jesus has been raised from the dead. He is now with the Father. And he will come back at the end of time.”
Basically, what they said to the disciples was: “Come down from the mountain. Get down from the clouds. Go and do what Jesus told you to do and live the mission that he preached.”
Then, in our Gospel Reading from Matthew, we don’t see the Ascension as such but we see Jesus saying to his disciples what we call the Great Commission. He says, “Your mission on earth is to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” What he’s saying is that we need to be Christ to each other.
There is a story — really a legend, meaning it isn’t true but interesting to think about. The story is about the Ascension and Jesus being taken up to heaven. He’s in heaven and the Angel Gabriel sees him and asks him a question. “Now that your work is finished, what plans have you made to insure that the truth that you’ve brought to earth will spread throughout the world?”
Jesus answered, “I called some fishermen and tax collectors to walk along with me as I did my Father’s will.”
“Yes, I know about them,” Gabriel said. “But what other plans have you made?”
Jesus replied, “I taught Peter, James and John about the Kingdom of God. I taught Thomas about faith. And all of them were with me as I healed and preached to the multitude.”
Gabriel replied, “But you know how unreliable that lot was? Surely you made other plans to make sure your work was not in vain.”
Jesus replied quietly to Gabriel, “I have no other plans. I am depending on them. I’m depending on you.”
While the Ascension is the fulfillment of Jesus on earth, the real heart of the situation is that he left us to do his will. He spent a lot of time talking about the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of God. We know that the fulfillment of that is in heaven. But we also know that he wants the Kingdom of God to be here on earth, and the only way the Kingdom of God can be on earth is that we make it on earth, and that we become Christ on earth and spread his word.
So how do we do that? And is that being done? If we look at our world today, is there more peace on earth now than five years ago, ten years ago, one hundred years ago,
a thousand years ago? Is Christ better known today than he was in the past?
Perhaps, more importantly, if we look at our own life, is Christ the center of who we are? When we look at our family and look at all these babies to be baptized, is Christ the center of our family?
When we look at our church and Blessed Sacrament in particular, are we spreading the good news of Jesus? When I look around I think we are doing a pretty good job. Can we do more? Of course we can.
We spend a lot of time talking about stewardship — the use of time, talent, and treasure — that is really what the mission of Jesus is for us in our lives. If we use the gifts that we have to bring Christ into this world and to bring his love into this world, then we are carrying out that mission.
When we look at our church, are we a welcoming community? With the guests here today, I hope you feel welcome. When we look at all the ministries that we offer, are we taking advantage of those opportunities to bring the message of Christ to each other?
Do we really care about one another?
So the mission today is really this: God so loved us he sent Jesus to redeem us, but he also sent Jesus to show us how to live and how to love. I guess the question for us this morning is, if Gabriel came up to us and asked, “Are you fulfilling the mission that God has given us?”
What would we say?
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Terry Ellerman is a retired educator and serves as a Deacon at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Quincy, Illinois.