Theme: Go forth and evangelize
The forty days preceding Ascension were days of preparation for the young Church. Like Moses and Elijah, Jesus equipped his disciples with a mission to witnesses to the ends of the earth. His departure anticipated his return. He was lifted up by a cloud which took Him out of their sight as if he was formless since this was his nature before creation.
Previously, he had for a long time manifested Himself in a physical nature through the mystery Incarnation when the Word had become flesh dwelling among us. What we celebrate on Ascension Day is the human departure of Jesus from this world who leaves his disciples the missionary mandate of disengaging themselves from the known to the unknown by moving from Jerusalem to the ends of the world.
First Reading: Acts 1: 1-11
This first reading begins by introducing us to a previous Book of the New Testament. Luke had written another book which is the Gospel with his name. Biblical history tells us that originally, these two books were joined together at Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:6. When the Catholic Church arranged the New Testament Canon books, the volume of Luke was divided in two in the manner in which we presently have them. Luke recalls how Jesus ordered His disciples not to leave Jerusalem until such time as they had received the Holy Spirit. This promise is still manifested today through the Sacrament of Confirmation. The disciples were commanded to stay in Jerusalem because it was God’s chosen City in which the spiritual Kingdom was to be established. Today the visible Body of Christ has its seat at the Vatican while the invisible Body is in Jerusalem. The reception of the Holy Spirit was crucial because He had been chosen and sent by the Father to sustain the Church in her new era. From Jerusalem, the geographical center of sacred history was to begin the apostolic mission as previously prepared by Jesus prior to His Ascension into heaven. Luke writes this to affirm that Ascension Day is an experience of faith which is so important for Christians to the extent of giving them a new name Theophilus meaning one who loves God.
It was in the mind of believers that all the people who do God’s will, would be assumed into Heaven body, mind and soul as was the case with Enoch, Elisha and Elija. The risen Lord had conquered the rules and forces of nature placing him above all dominions, there he would be present for all who call upon his name. The figure forty is a biblical symbol that stands for a period of waiting. Even in our time, those who have not encountered the Lord in Sacraments are in a period of waiting. Ascension also acted as an assurance to the disciples who had run away during the Passion Week that not all had been lost, their re assembling in the Sinai desert re-qualified their commitment to the risen Lord to remain his authentic disciples to the end of time.
The Holy Spirit would accompany them every where they would go even to the most difficult places. For a good like the Kingdom, the Apostles wanted all promises accomplished immediately so that at his return, Jesus would take them to his place. However Jesus removed this illusion by stating that the Kingdom of God in this world would not be a rapid and easy task. Salvation has already begun and will be successful, but its growth would be slow like development of a seed. The followers of the risen and ascended Lord are supposed to be optimistic, looking at what can be done on earth so as to transform it; that is why task assigned to them is “You will be my witnesses” Acts 1:8. Christian faith ought to act as a stimulus to assist believers to commit themselves concretely in transforming conditions of humanity so that issues of oppression, war and poverty which still terrorizing our society may give way to prosperity, justice and peace. With the baptized the risen Lord transforms society.
Second Reading: Ephesians 1: 17-23
Paul prays that God may grant wisdom to Christians to understand the mystery of the Church which is to open humanity to great hope. Christians are responsible citizens with a vision to achieve better life while waiting for Christ’s return. St. Paul say, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know Him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know the hope to which He has called you” Ephesians 1:17. True Christians are responsible people anywhere in the world who make good things happen at the right time. A Christian has immeasurable power that is able to unite where once there was division, to heal where pain once existed and to forgive where condemnation once thrived. A Christian must be a unique person above average.
Gospel: Mark 16:15-20
This text which is referred to as longer ending of Mark 16:9-20 stands as a valid witness to the faith of the early Church regarding the situation as it was at that time which persists even Church today. To believe the Good News is to insist that Jesus is risen. Faith in the risen Lord leads to baptism and grants salvation, whereby unbelievers are condemned. Having just reproached his disciples for their lack of faith, Jesus nevertheless commissions the same group commanding them to “go and proclaim the good news” Mark 16:15. The deepest wonder of this text is not the list of wondrous signs but that the Lord entrusts the saving message to messengers whose faith is questionable, at best. He doesn’t wait for their faith to bloom fully but sends them out so that they too might be convinced by the power of the message they carry forth. In their obedience to Jesus, faith is born and in the course of their mission, it is affirmed. As we continue the mission entrusted to us, we have also to grow in faith, to obey Jesus and realize his commission to go into the whole world, proclaiming and witnessing to the Good News in word and deed? The strategic plan of action is clearly spelt out; in his name they shall cast out devils, they will have a gift of tongues, they will pick snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay hands on the sick who will recover.
This is the reason of our joy and of today’s feast; Jesus has not gone far from us, he has not gone to some other place. He is still with us in a different way. Before Easter he could only be in one place at a time, he could only speak to a number of people in a limited time. Now all these limits have been removed. He is close to us forever and everywhere. Through death on the Cross, followed by His glorious resurrection, Christ has conquered all governing bodies. Now, none of them possess any power over Him. None of them can stand in the way of God’s progressive Divine Plan of salvation.
The Holy Spirit is still willing to be with us to teach us how to be missionaries to the ends of the earth. After his resurrection and ascension into heaven, Jesus has dominion over all creations and he still delegates his apostles to “go to the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Who ever believes and is baptized will be saved.” Mark 16:15-16. This mandate still stands even today as a blessing for all humanity. His plan of action which is to announcing the great time of repentance for forgiveness of sins, grant peace, cast out devils, heal the sick and proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand is what must be done by every believer today. Today we are blessed and empowered to go forth and proclaim the good news. It is our duty to be a blessing also to one another wherever we find ourselves. Ascension gives each one of us a mandate to go and evangelize.
Fr Paulino Mondo