Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Mt 28:16-20
There was a long-winded pastor who preached salvation history from Genesis to Revelation in every sermon. On the feast of Ascension as he reached Isaiah, he remarked that the prophet said nothing about the Ascension of Our Lord. He asked his audience, “What shall we do with him?” One old man in the front seat said, “He can have my seat, Father, I am leaving.” On this feast of Ascension, I don’t want to be repeating here the entire salvation history.
Each Sunday we profess through the Creed, “He ascended into Heaven.” Christ’s Ascension was the culmination of God’s divine plan for Christ Jesus, his return to his Father with “Mission Accomplished.” Ascension is the grand finale of all his words and works done for us and for our salvation. It was a culmination, but not the conclusion. As Jesus is now with God in glory, he is now with us in Spirit: “Lo, I am with you always.”
The Biblical accounts of the Ascension focus not so much on the details of the event as on the mission Jesus gave to his disciples. For example, in the accounts narrated in Luke and Acts, the Ascension took place in Jerusalem. In Matthew and Mark, on the other hand, the event occurred in Galilee. All accounts, however, agree that the Ascension, a real event, happening in real time and observed by real people, took place on a mountain. In Luke and Acts, the Ascension happened forty days after the Resurrection, a period during which Jesus appeared repeatedly to his followers. In Matthew and Mark there is no indication of the time period between the Resurrection and the Ascension. The Gospel writers apparently were not aiming at accuracy of historical detail but were more concerned with transmitting Our Lord’s message.
The Ascension message is very clear: “Preach the Good News and be my witnesses:” Matthew, Mark and Acts record Jesus’ last words differently: 1) “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). 2) “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” (Matthew 28:19-21). 3) “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark.16:15). All are in agreement that (a) Jesus gave his disciples a mission of bearing witness to him by preaching and living the Good News. They are to tell and re-tell the story of Jesus’ life, suffering, death and Resurrection, Ascension and sending of the Holy Spirit. (b) He assured them of the Divine assistance of the Holy Spirit in the carrying out of this mission.
After attending a convention led by Billy Graham a woman wrote to him. “Dear Sir, I feel that God is calling me to preach the Gospel. But the trouble is that I have twelve children. What shall I do?” The televangelist replied: “Dear Madam, I am delighted to hear that God has called you to preach the Gospel. I am even more delighted to hear that He has already provided you with a congregation in your own home.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives his mission to all the believers: “Go out to the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” This mission is not given to a select few but to all believers. To be a Christian is to be a proclaimer and an evangelizer. There is a difference between preaching and proclaiming. “We preach with words but we proclaim with our lives.” As we celebrate the Lord’s return to His Father in Heaven – His Ascension — we are being commissioned to go forth and proclaim the Gospel of life and love, of hope and peace, by the witness of our lives. On this day of hope, encouragement and commissioning, let us renew our commitment to be true disciples everywhere we go, beginning with our family and our parish, “living in a manner worthy of the call [we] have received.”