There is an old and beautiful story that tells of how Jesus, after his Ascension into Heaven, was surrounded by the holy angels who began to enquire about his work on earth. Jesus told them about his birth, life, preaching, suffering, death, Resurrection, and even how he had accomplished the salvation of the world. The angel Gabriel asked, “Well, now that you are back in Heaven, who will continue your work on earth?” Jesus said, “While I was on earth, I gathered a group of who believed in me and loved me. They will continue to spread the Gospel and carry on the work of the Church.” Gabriel was perplexed and asked Jesus, “You mean Peter, who denied you three times and all the rest who ran away when you were crucified? Do you mean to tell us that you left them to carry on your work? And what will you do if this plan doesn’t work?” Do you have a plan B? Jesus said, “I have no other plan, and it must work.” Yes, dear friends, Jesus truly has no other plan than to depend on his followers. He counts on you and me to carry out his mission and ministry in today’s world.
The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (1:1-11) gives an account of the event of the Ascension. Jesus instructed His apostles to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the baptism by the Holy Spirit so that they might become his “witnesses to the ends of the earth” by the power of the Holy Spirit. Then a cloud took Jesus from the sight of the disciples, and two Heavenly messengers in white garments assured them of Jesus’ “Second coming” in glory. In the second reading, St. Paul explains the theological meaning of Jesus’ exaltation, giving us the assurance that one day, we too will be ascending to Heavenly Glory, provided we fulfill the mission entrusted to us by the Lord.
In today’s Gospel (Mark 16:15-20), Jesus gives his final message, final instructions, final promise, and final blessing to His apostles, as recorded in Mark, Acts, and Mathew. First, “proclaiming the good news to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15), second, “to Preach the good news and be His witnesses:” (Acts 1:8), and third, “to make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). Every Sunday, we profess through the Creed, “He ascended into Heaven.” Ascension is the culmination of God’s Divine plan for Jesus, His return to his Father with a sense of Mission Accomplished. It is the grand finale of all his words and works for our salvation. It is a culmination, not a conclusion.
The Biblical accounts of the Ascension focus not on the details of the event but on the Mission that Jesus gave to his disciples. For example, in the accounts narrated in Luke and Acts, the Ascension took place in Jerusalem, but in Matthew and Mark, it is in Galilee. In Luke and Acts, the Ascension happened forty days after the Resurrection, but in Matthew and Mark, there is no indication of the time. The Gospel writers were not aiming at the historical accuracy but transmitting Christ’s message to the whole world. However, all accounts agree that the Ascension was a real event, happened in real-time, was observed by real people, and took place on a mountain. On this feast of the Ascension, the liturgy of the word challenges us with these words: ‘If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth.‘ St. Augustine proclaimed these words: “Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him.
Dear brothers and sisters, we are called to be proclaimers and evangelizers. To be a Christian is to be a proclaimer and an evangelizer commissioned on the day of our baptism. There is a difference between preaching and proclaiming. We preach with words, but we proclaim with our lives. We are called to be teachers of Jesus’s mission. Jesus taught us lessons of Faith, Hope, Love, forgiveness, mercy, and salvation by his life and preaching. He commissioned us to teach the mission to others. Our daily study of the Bible and the teachings of the Church, experience Jesus in personal prayer, reception of the Sacraments, and works of charity makes us teachers for Christ. The Ascension is our source of strength and encouragement. We will be able to overcome doubts about our Faith, as well as baseless fears, anxieties, and worries, by meditating on Ascension and the lesson it teaches us on a daily basis. Let us ask the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as we bear witness to Jesus by our transparent Christian lives. May God bless us all. Happy Weekend!
Fr. Tomy J. Puliyan, MSFS