Thursday, June 2, 2011
The Ascension of the Lord
What are we like when we are feeling confused? What goes on in our minds and hearts when circumstances in our life don't make any sense? We usually stop whatever we are doing and try to make sense of the situation. We stare into space trying to figure out just what is going on. We take a step back to get perspective on our surroundings. Confusion can paralyze us with the fear that we have lost control.
In today's reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples are the picture of confusion. Who can blame them? In a few short days they experienced the devastating brutality of Jesus' death and then the exhilaration of learning that He was raised from the dead. And, they had just finished up many glorious days with Him in their homeland of Galilee. Now, Jesus is ascending into heaven. All they can do is look up into the sky like people who won't leave a theatre after the movie is over. They don't know what to do next. They don't know what their next step should be. It takes the angels to snap them out of their trance and to reassure them that Jesus would return.
Where had Jesus gone? Jesus ascended to heaven to take the throne the Father had prepared for Him. In heaven, Jesus is exalted for winning the victory over sin and death through His cross and resurrection. When generals return victorious from battle, we honor them with parades. Jesus' ascension into heaven is His victory parade for having won back for the Father all the peoples of the earth. Paul says, in the second reading, that God has put all things under Christ's feet. This victory still has not been completed, and won't be until Jesus comes again in glory at the end of the world. But, we know who the winner will be, even as the battle rages on.
It was unclear to the disciples just what was going on. But Jesus' plan was to make them His witnesses throughout all the earth. From His throne in heaven, Jesus would send upon them the Holy Spirit which would give them the power to overcome their fear and the conviction to preach about Jesus' death and resurrection even when their lives were threatened. The confusion was to last only a short while. The Holy Spirit would make everything clear to them in short order.
The message of the apostles and their mission has been passed on to us who gather here 2000 years later. We are to make disciples of the nations, if we are to be true disciples ourselves. We are to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, just as we have been baptized. We are to teach the commands of Jesus, just as they have been taught to us. And, we are to know and remember always that Jesus is with us until He comes again in glory at the end of the world.
We live with much confusion. In our individual lives, we can be confused about what God wants for us, about what direction our life is leading us in or about why some difficulties always seem to be placed before us. As a Church, we are so often confused about how to preach and live God's Word faithfully and how best to be true disciples of Jesus. That confusion too often paralyzes us. It too often causes us to do nothing or to give up altogether. It sometimes tempts us to turn back to old, comfortable patterns of living rather than stay on the path of ongoing conversion that the gospel calls us to. It too often causes us to look to the world and its values for guidance, rather than striving to know and live God's will.
But, Jesus' ascended to heaven to take over authority for our individual lives and our lives as a Church. Jesus is now fully in control, even when things seem chaotic around us. And so, when we are confused, we are to go forward in faith expecting that Jesus will eventually make clear to us why we are experiencing difficulties or why such-and-such a thing is happening in our individual lives or in our history as a Church community.
To serve Jesus, we do not have to have everything figured out. We do not have to know everything to be faithful to Jesus our Savior. We only have to trust that if we say yes to Him and to His will, then He will use our words and our actions to touch the lives of those we meet. When we are confused or agitated by events around us, we simply have to know and believe that Jesus is with us and that He will make all things work our for our good and for His glory.
Jesus has ascended to heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father where He reigns as King over heaven and earth. When Jesus does come again, we don't want to be caught looking up into the skies waiting for something to happen. We want to be living in the Spirit of insight and wisdom which Paul describes in the second reading. That Spirit reveals to us the great hope to which we are called. It emboldens us through the immeasurable scope of His power at work in us who believe. It works wonders in us who give our lives over to our Savior Jesus and who trust that, at the right hand of the Father in heaven, He has everything under control.