Wednesday, May 4, 2016


It is natural for us to want to celebrate victories.

Think of the Olympics. Not only do we enjoy watching the swim meets, the races or the competitions, we also watch the opening ceremonies, the lighting of the torch and the medals ceremony. If someone in our country or hometown has won a medal, we want to give him or her a parade to celebrate the achievement. Not only do we want to take part in the drama of the competition, we also want to revel in the victory by honoring the winners and taking pride in their triumph.

The same is true in our life of faith. If we think about Jesus’ passion as His competition with sin and death, and consider His Resurrection as His ultimate victory, then today’s feast - The Ascension of the Lord into Heaven - is our celebration of that victory. The Ascension is Jesus’ victory parade. He returns to His Heavenly Father having perfectly fulfilled His will, having revealed to the whole world God’s love and power and having won victory over sin and death. All of heaven breaks out into jubilation and rejoices over the triumph of Jesus.
By faith, we too on earth, by gathering here today also are part of that victory celebration.

This idea is expressed beautifully in today’s Responsorial Psalm. It was originally written as part of a ceremony for the temple in Jerusalem. It celebrates God’s presence among His people symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant and His glory as King over all the earth. As the Ark of the Covenant was processed into the temple, the people would break out into songs of praise and trumpets would sound. The Temple and the Ark of the Covenant in particular were considered God’s throne on earth, the place from which He ruled over all creation.

What was celebrated in a symbolic way in the Temple by the singing of the Responsorial Psalm, is fulfilled in a real way through Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven. He is taken up into Heaven to be King of all the Earth. God the Father gives Him dominion over all creation, as Saint Paul tells us in today’s second reading from the letter to the Ephesians. God has put all things under Jesus’ feet and made Him head of the Church which is His Body. From Heaven, Jesus rules over the Kingdom of God until He comes again to judge the Earth.

Before He ascended to heaven, the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?” They had been witnesses to all that Jesus’ did and said throughout His life. They had seen Him heal the blind and give new life to the dead. Most importantly, they saw first hand His resurrection victory over death. Now they wanted the whole world to see it too. They wanted everyone to know that Jesus is King over all the earth.

But Jesus tells them that the time is not right. The apostles wanted Jesus to establish a Kingdom that was like the Roman Empire or the other kingdoms of the ancient world. They expected Him to rule like the emperors of their day did, by dominating and exerting authority over others. However, as Jesus told Pilate at His interrogation, His Kingdom is not of this world. It is not a Kingdom marked by military power, coercion or threats of violence. Rather, it is an authority that is exercised through love. It is a power that is exerted through humble service. It is a court which is ruled over not by the wealthy and well-connected but by the poor. It is unlike any kingdom or empire the world has ever seen.

As we gather to celebrate Jesus’ victory, we might have the same question as the apostles. If He has won the victory over sin and death, why do we still see so much suffering in the world? If He is indeed King of Heaven and Earth, why do so few people acknowledge Him as their Lord? If He has power over all things, why is there still so much poverty, hunger and oppression in our world?

If Jesus were to somehow appear in our midst and we were to ask Him these questions, I think we would be surprised by His answer. I think He would say to us, “Those are good questions. Why is there still suffering, oppression, poverty and hunger in the world? When I lived among you, I made it clear that you were to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick. Why have you not done so?”

The very simple answer to our questions is that there are still hungry people in the world because we have not shared our bread with them. There are still poor people in the world because we have not shared our money with them. There are still those who do not believe because we have not shared our faith with them.  Jesus has risen to His throne in heaven and left it up to us to continue His work here on earth in the power of His Spirit. When He comes again to judge the living and the dead, those will be the questions He will ask us. How will we be able to respond?

The good news is that it is not too late. There is still time for us to change so that we can bring the light of the gospel to the dark places of our world, the places that have still not been invaded by Jesus’ triumph over sin and death. We should each pray every morning, “Lord, how do you want me to make known your victory in my life today?” If we remain open to His will and courageous in saying “yes” to Him, He will take care of the rest. He has already defeated evil and wants His victory to be manifested and celebrated in every home, in every church, in every school and in every corner of our world.

No comments: