Friday, May 26, 2017

Still To Be Written

I have a trick question for you.

What is the only unfinished book in the Bible?

A couple of hints. First, it is located in the New Testament. Second, one of the readings for today’s feast was taken from it.

The answer is, the Acts of the Apostles.

Saint Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles to serve as a second volume to his gospel. As the title of the book suggests, it chronicles how the apostles, inspired by the Holy Spirit, continued the saving work of Jesus after He ascended into heaven. Just as Jesus preached the Kingdom of God, so the apostles spread the good news from Jerusalem, to Samaria and eventually even to Rome. Just as Jesus healed those who came to him with diseases and other afflictions, so miraculous healings accompanied the ministry of the apostles. And just as Jesus was put to death, so the apostles and their followers are persecuted and killed with a prayer of forgiveness on their lips in imitation of their master. The Acts of the Apostles is the story of the early Church stepping out in faith to continue the saving works of our Lord Jesus.

However, the reason we can claim that the Acts of the Apostles is an unfinished book is that the story of the Church founded by Jesus to be a light for the nations is still being written. It did not end with the apostles. We who have been baptized and have come to believe in the name of Jesus are writing the next chapter. It is up to us now to preach the Kingdom of God, to heal the sick, to feed the hungry and, if necessary, to suffer ridicule and rejection for the sake of the Savior we have come to love. Jesus left the task to his apostles, they left it to their disciples, and now it has been passed on to us. The pen is in our hand to continue writing the acts of the followers of Christ.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Ascension when, forty days after the Resurrection, Jesus went up to the right hand of the Father in heaven. From His throne in paradise, he continues to watch over, pray for and guide the people whom He has entrusted with His word. Jesus is looking down upon us gathered here today who have believed in Him and are striving to live lives that are pleasing to Him.

We might wonder to ourselves, why did Jesus ascend to heaven? Wouldn’t it have been better if, after His Resurrection, He stayed around to show Himself to others? Then more people would have believed that He had risen from the dead and that He was the Son of God. Why would He leave the apostles after just forty days when He could have still done so much more good on earth?

First of all, we know that Jesus worked many signs and wonders during His life, and still many people refused to believe that He was the Son of God. After the Resurrection, many people saw the empty tomb and still did not believe that He had risen. Even the disciples whom Jesus did appear to continued to fear and have their doubts as Saint Matthew tells us in today’s gospel. There are many who, for whatever reason, simply refuse to believe. Even the sight of the Risen Lord would not convince them.

Secondly, and most importantly, Jesus has left it to us to continue His mission on earth. He has given us His Spirit so that we can do the works He did. He assures us in the gospel of John, “Whoever sees you, sees me; whoever hears you, hears me.” Jesus ascended into heaven to pass on to us the responsibility and mission of witnessing to the truth of His Resurrection. Each one of us has a part to play in the story of salvation which is still being written in our time. As Saint Teresa of Avila wrote so beautifully, “Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world.” Now that Jesus has ascended to the Father, if anyone is to hear the good news and encounter for themselves the love of Jesus it will have to be through us, by our words and by the good and holy lives we lead.

Though the story of salvation is still being written, we know how it will end. In the final chapter Jesus Christ will descend from heaven to reveal Himself to all people and nations as the Son of God and Savior of the World. There will be no denying it. He will finally put an end to sin, suffering and death.  And He will give to us who have believed in Him a share in the heavenly glory of His Kingdom which is our inheritance as children of God. We long for Him to come in His glory and we live with confidence following His commandments knowing that He has already won the victory for us.

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