Ascension of the Lord (Fr. Francis)
Our Lord returns to the Heavenly Father, but he is still with us through the Holy Spirit. He now commissions us his disciples to continue his work; to keep spreading his message of good news and to keep living and proclaiming his gospel. We are on the journey towards the fullness of God’s Kingdom. Everything we do and say is directed towards cooperating in God’s work of the Kingdom. If Jesus had not returned to the Father, we would still be saying “there he is over there!” or “here he is only over here!!”; But now, by returning to Heaven and sending the Holy Spirit to us, Jesus is “all IN all” because Christ makes his home in our hearts and in our world, through the Holy Spirit. All the while, we work to make our homes, our workplaces and our city, more and more places of Christian value and action. The Spirit helps us to make Christ present in the midst of a world which can be too-often filled with selfishness, undue privilege, arrogance; and abuse of power or authority. Tragically this world is capable of showing a terrible indifference towards the poor, the hungry and the suffering.
As one scripture scholar puts it: “Ascension and Pentecost are feasts of Christian maturity. We are now called to continue Jesus’ mission with our insight into reality, our criteria, and decisions.
Luke’s Gospel on the Ascension has a fascinating, different, focus from Matthew and Mark’s versions. In these other two gospels, the Disciples are sent out on mission. In Luke, yes they are implicitly sent on mission but they are particularly sent out, in the visible absence of Christ, to be witnesses of Christ in their words and actions in the world. Our Lord’s absence is not as if he is dead and gone. Rather, he is alive, and with the Father, and he will return at the end to complete all things. In the meantime, we must be his hands and eyes and heart in the world, through the Power of the Spirit.
“For, the “power of the Spirit” (Acts 1:7) is with us. We must not stand still looking up and lamenting the absence of the Lord. We must not sit around waiting for his return in a passive kind of way. Instead, we must set out on our way to take his gospel “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). We are now adult Christians, not immature, not passive; not merely waiting for answers or tasks to fall out of the sky… but rather shareholders in the kingdom, sons, and daughters of the eternal God, brothers, and sisters of Christ…. with a real part to play in the action. Before Christ’s death, the disciples were like young students, being carefully nourished with the message. After Christ’s death, resurrection, Ascension, and with the coming of the Holy Spirit, they are now not merely waiting to be fed, they are to go out and be nourishment for others.
The Second Vatican Council strongly emphasized this. Being mature in the faith is a requirement of the gospel, and as adults, we all have our carefully thought-out, reflected upon, and prayed-about views and insights into this shared task we share in. We are encouraged in this by the assurance that the Lord will return (Acts 1:11) because he is alive (Eph 1:20). But we are also alert, for at that time he will ask us to give an account of the talents he has entrusted to us, and the fruits we have been able to produce,” with our work and cooperation. Jesus’ ascension tells us to “stop standing there looking up into the clouds;” There is work to be done. And, there is no time like the present. In his earthly ministry, Our Lord was in an urgent hurry to bring his gospel and his ministry to all people. He now entrusts this ministry to us, through the abiding presence of his Spirit. There is no time to lose. God wants us to be about his business right away, and, reassuringly, always giving us the ‘very present’ assistance of God’s Holy Spirit abiding in us.
A Witness tells what he knows.
The dictionary defines the word “witness” this way: “One who has seen or heard something” and “One who furnishes evidence.” A witness is someone who can say, “I know this is true.” In a court of law a witness swears on a Bible and promises to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Witnesses tell the truth, and if they are good witnesses, that is all they do. A witness tells nothing less than the truth—and nothing more either. A witness is a person who tells the truth about Jesus Christ. The disciples testified to the things they knew to be true about Jesus Christ. Above all, they testified to the truth of the resurrection.
Let me apply this very simply. You don’t have to be a theologian to be a witness for Christ. You don’t have to go to Bible school or seminary and you don’t have to be a missionary. It doesn’t require a college degree or a high IQ. Just tell the truth about Jesus to anyone who is willing to listen. That’s where witnessing always begins.
A Witness shares what he has experienced.
Listen to the words of 1 John 1:1, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” John says, “I saw him, I heard him, I walked with him, I touched him.” Now listen to verse 2: “The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” There are three stages here: 1) Christ appeared on earth, 2) We experienced him personally, 3) Now we declare him to you.
Every sales person knows you can’t sell what you don’t believe in. People can tell a mile away if you’re just reading from a manual or rehearsing a memorized presentation. The best sales people are those who believe in what they’re selling to the point that they’re not selling anything—they’re simply talking about what they know to be true. It’s the same way with the gospel. If you haven’t experienced Jesus, you can’t witness for him. Oh, you can try but it’s going to come off sounding canned. What a difference it makes when you share from the depths of your soul what Jesus means to you. This is the best kind of witnessing.
A Witness remains loyal to the end.
In Greek, the word for witnesses is martyrs, from which we get the English word martyr. It means being loyal to Jesus no matter the cost and speaking up for him even when others oppose you. How many of us are willing to do that?
Do you want to be a witness? Testify to Jesus Christ. Speak up for him. “But I’m too shy to witness “You say. Don’t worry about your shyness. Let the Lord speak through you. “I don’t know enough Bible.” No one knows enough Bible. Work at it. While you work at it, tell what you know and leave the results with God. “What if I make mistakes?” You probably will, and that’s OK, too. The Holy Spirit does not make mistakes, and he can cause people to forget your mistakes. Perhaps you have one final objection. “I’m afraid it won’t work.” When people say that, they usually are thinking of someone they know who seems hardened against the gospel. Usually we think it won’t work when we’ve tried and tried but haven’t gotten anywhere. When you think that the gospel won’t work, remember this fact: It worked with you. If it worked with you, it can work with someone else. Don’t ever give up on the gospel because you think it won’t work. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would work through your testimony.
Fr. A. Francis HGN