This weekend we celebrate the feast of the Ascension of the Lord. Luke’s Gospel ends with one version of the Ascension and his second book, the Acts of the Apostles, begins with another version; we hear both of them today. That gives us a clue as to how we should understand this feast.
Luke’s Gospel is about the life of Christ and His physical presence on earth, beginning with stories of his birth and continuing through His life until His death, resurrection, and ascension: “he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.”
Luke’s Acts of the Apostles is about the early Church and how the disciples, after the descent of the Holy Spirit, were able to take up the great mission Jesus had given them to go out into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature. It starts with the Ascension, because it was necessary for Jesus to leave so that the focus could be on the mission and not on Him. We can see that in the question the disciples ask Jesus in today’s reading: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They were still focused on Him, hoping that He would become an earthly power. He had to get out of the way, so that the Spirit could come to them and they could begin their missionary work, the wonderful missionary work that is chronicled for us in the Acts of the Apostles.
We have been given the same mandate in baptism: to preach the Gospel to every creature through our words and actions. It is a struggle for us, as it was for the first disciples. But, we have been given many gifts to help us: the Scriptures, the Body and Blood of Christ, the Community, and the Holy Spirit.
The temptation for the first disciples was to focus on Jesus and not the mission. It can be the same for us, if our focus is only on fulfilling religious duties and not on how we are bringing the Good News to the world. All our religious duties are crucial, but not as ends in themselves: they are to strengthen us so that we can be better disciples, bringing Christ’s love and light to a world so desperately in need of them.
As we celebrate the feast of the Ascension and prepare to celebrate Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, let us renew our commitment to grow in our ability to live the great mandate of bringing the Good News to the world around us. God bless.
Church sign of the week: Don’t wish for it, work for it.