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Homily, the Ascension of the Lord

7th Sunday of Easter

The Ascension of the Lord

Acts 1:1-11; Eph 4:1-13; Mark 16:15-20

There are people who enjoy stories that reflect an orderly view of the world; with a beginning, a middle and an end, with a conclusion that ties up all the loose ends, leaving people with a sense of completion and satisfaction. When the book is closed, there are no more questions to be asked. It is finished! On the other hand, there are people who prefer their stories to be open-ended, because they believe that life is like that, with a variety of loose connections and accidental happenings without a tidy ending. When the book is closed, the questions do not cease.

Depending on your own point of view and preference, you can read the story of Jesus’ ascension as a story that completes everything or as a story that leaves everything open-ended. Of course, the ascension does complete the mission of Jesus: it is the last act of the cycle of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, celebrating the return of Jesus to the Father. The ascension is also open-ended, for it marks the beginning of a new time when the apostles have to live in the absence of the Jesus they knew. They have to come to terms with the fact that Jesus will never again walk with them on the roads of Palestine, healing the sick and the wounded, preaching about the kingdom of God. That time is over! ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking in the sky?’ The show isn’t over, the curtain hasn’t fallen, the action isn’t completed. And the ending of the Gospel of Mark emphasizes this; “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to every creature” That process is open-ended. It is still going on.

Sometimes, I think that when we hear the words “proclaim the Gospel” we interpret them in the narrowest sense, in a way that demands little from us.  As long as we are not openly denying God’s existence or denying that Jesus was the Son of God who saved us or denying our belief that eternal life has been won for us, we’re fulfilling our responsibilities as disciples, as followers of Jesus.  “Proclaiming” the Gospel is much more than that, so much more than simply saying the right things, or not hiding our beliefs and religious practices. Everything we are and say “proclaims” something to those around us, proclaims volumes about what we believe and the effect of those beliefs in the way we live our lives. 

And so, each action we take, each choice we make, impacts other people in one of two ways.  We can either be the face of God for them, leading them to more faith and hope, or we can give them reasons to not believe, reasons to doubt even more the claims that we make all the time.  Our lives are that powerful. So, one of the best ways to “proclaim the Gospel” is to provide people the kind of experiences Jesus provided to people time and time again, experiences that make people pause and wonder if there isn’t something more to this life than what we can see, that there is a reason to believe in a God who loves us and saves us and is with us always. 

What are these “wow” moments that are hard to deny?

  • Forgiving someone who has hurt us deeply.
  • Giving generously even when we have little.
  • Reaching out with patience and kindness and compassion to those who have a hard time believing that anyone loves them.
  • Refusing to accept common prejudices and biases and judgments about others.
  • Facing our tragedies and disappointments and sorrows with hope and trust.
  • Putting other people’s needs before our own.

All these are the kinds of things that speak volumes about who we are and what we believe is important.  These are the experiences that can truly impact others in a positive way, help them understand that a life of faith is one that truly makes a difference, for the believer and for all the people they encounter. 

Dear friends, we are all bit like the disciples at the Ascension. We have had our moments of feeling certain, knowing Christ’s love and God’s presence in our lives. We have also known moments of wondering why God seems to have disappeared, leaving such a trifling group as us to carry on the mission. Today, we are called to remember who we are. We are the baptized. We have received the Spirit, yet our temptation is to keep looking to heaven instead of trusting Christ’s judgement and taking the mission into our own hands. We have been entrusted with Jesus’s mission for our time and place. We can live a life worthy of our call as St Paul tells us in the second reading.  And as Luke shows us the Ascension is just the beginning. The angels would tell us what they told the group on the mountain: ‘Stop looking up. It’s now your turn, the only one you’ll have, to carry on.’

Love God, love people and make disciples!

 

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